BizWorthy: UNC Charlotte Taking Different Approach To Testing For COVID-19

Sep 10, 2020

Classes at UNC Charlotte began this week. They’re all online for the first three weeks of the semester because of the pandemic. The school plans to bring students back for in-person class beginning Oct. 1. Other schools in the state that began with in person instruction like UNC Chapel Hill and NC State University quickly switched to all-remote classes after identifying several coronavirus clusters among students.  

There’s a growing consensus among health experts that colleges and universities should only reopen their campuses if they can test students on arrival and frequently throughout the semester. That can be costly and complicated. Tony Mecia of the Charlotte Ledger Business Newsletter joins us to discuss UNC Charlotte's plan and other stories.

Marshall Terry: So, Tony, is UNC Charlotte planning to take on a testing regiment like what experts are recommending?

Tony Mecia: Well, Marshall, UNC Charlotte is taking a little bit of a different approach than some of the other schools in the UNC system. It's delayed its classes by a few weeks. Other UNC campuses started them a little bit earlier. And it's doing something a little bit different. It's going to be testing wastewater coming out of dorms and coming out of other campus facilities to try to find COVID.

Now, what it's not doing is it's not testing the students when they come back to campus. You've got to remember UNC Charlotte has about 30,000 students. It's the third largest UNC campus in the state. That's an awful lot of students, and so they're not testing everybody, although in fairness, a month or two ago, some of the recommendations were maybe you didn't really have to do that.

So, they are doing something a little bit different there. They're conscious of what's gone on at some of these other campuses where you've had some of these outbreaks, and they're working to try to prevent that.

Terry: Now, is cost a factor in the decision not to test students when they come back, besides just there being so many students to test?

Mecia: Well, we don't know the exact cost. There is certainly a cost to testing. If you're testing 30,000 students and you're doing it regularly, that's an awful lot of tests. There is some cost involved in that. And you also have to remember, Marshall, the total number of COVID tests that are being done in Mecklenburg County each day in the last month have never been more than about 5,000. So, that's an awful lot of tests.

There is a cost element to it. The UNC system said last month that it thinks that it's going to lose about $220 million across all of its campuses, just based on lost revenue, and then there are also, of course, these additional expenses that they're having in terms of (personal protective equipment) and trying to get everything ready for when the students return.

Terry: I want to move now to our occasional series on the interesting things that you've discovered combing through public records on file with the state ABC Commission. Your latest find reveals some pretty wild stuff that went on backstage at a concert last year by Charlotte rapper DaBaby. So, what did you find?

Mecia: So, about a year ago, in June of 2019, DaBaby was performing at The Fillmore at the AvidXchange Music Factory. You know, there was security there. There were police officers there. Some of the police officers were backstage. They noticed one guy that they thought had a gun in his purse. This is after The Fillmore's management said they had already prevented about 10 firearms from entering the place through metal detectors.

Credit Pixy

According to the report with the ABC Commission, the police officer tried to follow this guy into the green room, was blocked by what sounded like some bouncers or DaBaby's security personnel. Crowd started forming around the police officer, started yelling at him, swearing at him, and he said he was fearful that if they had tried to arrest somebody, there would have been a big fight breaking out. So after that settled down, Marshall, they did find a couple of empty bottles of Hennessy cognac that didn't have required tax stamps on it, so this week, The Fillmore and the ABC Commission agreed to settle that for a $900 fine.

Terry: I want to take up a sports item now. You report that North Carolina is poised to become the center of the golf universe. How so?

Mecia: Well, Marshall, this week, the United States Golf Association said it is creating a second headquarters in Pinehurst. It's going to open an office there with about 50 employees, going to have a museum, a visitor center, an equipment-testing facility. And it's also committing to having more championship events in Pinehurst.

Credit Morgan David de Lossy / Unsplash

We'll have the U.S. Open already scheduled to be there in 2024. It will have that U.S. Open every six years or so, really for the next couple of decades, so they're sort of seen it as a big economic development win for the Pinehurst area. Certainly, if you're a golf fan, that's good news.

Terry: Finally, Tony, COVID is being blamed for another bankruptcy, this time the K&W Cafeteria chain based in Winston-Salem.

Mecia: Yeah. You know, we know that restaurants have been having a hard time in the pandemic with a lot of people staying home, not wanting to go out to eat, capacity limits. But restaurants that have more of a buffet style — and, you know, at K&W Cafeteria you go through and they sort of serve it out of a common container — those are those are particularly hard hit. Golden Corral is also having some issues. They've trying to do an online ordering. They're trying to do to-go orders, but that can be kind of a hard sell. K&W Cafeteria filed for bankruptcy protection. It says it will keep operating (and) hopes it can restructure and keep afloat.