Carolina’s Pandemic Year: This week last March, the University shifted to remote instruction. The Well is marking the occasion with a week of special stories, including ways the University has addressed the crisis, predictions from Carolina’s faculty on lasting changes to post-pandemic life and, below, a look back through The Well’s archive of stories.
The adage “what a difference a year makes” has never been truer.
A little more than 12 months ago, COVID-19 was not yet a term. No one wore masks in public. Students and professors still met daily by the thousands in classrooms across the Carolina campus. And fans packed concert halls, theaters, stadiums and arenas. So much has changed.
For a reminder of the early days of the pandemic that has dominated the world for the past year, we looked back at The Well’s story archive to see how news of the global pandemic unfolded. It started with the first story we published that mentioned the virus, Gillings research could aid response to coronavirus outbreaks, written by communicators at the Gillings School of Global Public Health about the effectiveness of the antiviral drug remdesivir in treating the Middle Eastern respiratory coronavirus, or MERS-CoV, in mice.
“The news of this treatment’s effectiveness comes as an outbreak of a new type of pneumonia has been identified in Wuhan City in China,” the Jan. 15, 2020, article reported.
The piece quoted Timothy Sheahan, assistant professor of epidemiology at the Gillings School, who said, “Preliminary reports say the viral pneumonia in Wuhan is being caused by a new Group 2b SARS-like strain of coronavirus.”
The Well published its first University-specific COVID-19 story, about travel restrictions, on Feb. 27, 2020, and Chancellor Guskiewicz and Provost Robert A. Blouin sent the first campus email about updated travel restrictions and COVID-19 planning efforts on March 9, 2020.
Two days later, on March 11, the University announced the extension of Spring Break through March 22 and the start of remote instruction on March 23.
A March 17 article in The Well reported on how Carolina’s housekeeping staff continued to clean buildings, updating protocols to ensure the safety of workers. The article also covered the efforts of Information Technology Services as the team helped the campus community prepare to work, teach and learn remotely using new technologies, including Zoom.
The beginning of remote instruction brought Carolina’s first virtual FDOC (first day of class).
A little nervous about giving his first online lecture live, John Orth, William Rand Kenan Professor of Law, decided to pre-record it. He addressed his video talk to the only “person” in the empty classroom, a Pinocchio doll that he set in the front row.
“I’m social distancing for this man and this man only,” wrote Law School student Montana Vaughn, referring to Orth in a Tweet that garnered more than 1.2 million likes, The Well story reported.
Carolina experts in epidemiology, medicine and public health helped the University community understand what a pandemic is and what lessons we’ve learned from other outbreaks, such as Ebola and the 1918 flu pandemic. The latter claimed the lives of one of Carolina’s beloved leaders, President Edward Kidder Graham, as well as his successor, Dean Marvin Stacy.
Other experts across campus led clinical trials for a COVID-19 vaccine, developed antiviral treatments, created a process for anticipating future pandemics and developing treatments, created materials for parents who were suddenly teaching their children at home and helped local government administrators prepare for challenges they faced.
But we also suffered losses. Spring Commencement was postponed. In March, the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments were canceled, along with Spring sports at Carolina. Those athletes with Olympic dreams were forced to put them on hold.
A chance to reflect
In May, faculty members reflected on “one strange semester,” recounting their thoughts and creating art to accompany them. Matthew Andrews, teaching associate professor in history, wrote about his Baseball and American History class:
“Carolyn wrote that my discussion of baseball and the romance of loss strengthened the bond with her 92-year old grandfather, a Chicago Cubs fan. ‘Now I get it,’ she wrote.
And then there was Alyssa, who wrote to tell me about her grandfather who has Alzheimer’s disease. They sat down together and watched my ‘Baseball and Nostalgia’ lecture. Alyssa told me how her grandfather suddenly opened up and the stories came pouring out. ‘It warms my heart to have him recall some things that you mention in your lecture that he remembers watching or reading about!’
We teach history to make connections between the past and the present. I miss being in the classroom, striving to make those connections with the students and in person. But this semester, my students showed me how the connection I feared lost in our classroom was replaced by connections between them, their loved ones and our class material. That wasn’t what I was expecting, but I’ll take it.”
Summer sessions were also held remotely. To prepare for the fall semester, Carolina created a roadmap to guide its plans and launched a website to share them broadly with the campus and the community.
The early months of the pandemic were an unprecedented time, as this look at The Well’s archive through May 2020 shows. Looking back also reminds us how much we’ve adapted to the crisis in so short a time.