A few weeks ago, historically Black colleges and universities in North Carolina were applauded for their management of COVID-19 community spread on campus. Statistically, they were among the state's best at keeping infection rates down, percentage-wise, compared to outbreaks at larger, more populated predominantly white public institutions in the state.
A week later, North Carolina A&T State University reported its first of three on-campus clusters of virus infection; eight students in a residence hall, five members of the Aggie men's basketball team, and 10 members of the marching band in 10 days.
NCAT is one of the universities that, by innovation and the will of the University of North Carolina System, is forced to be good at keeping COVID-19 off-campus. With the state's eyes upon it, the federal government's financial backing beside it, and the hopes of the HBCU community behind it, even Aggieland is finding that the best plans are no match for colder weather and a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic.
Leaders at NCAT aren't managing the COVID-19 issue poorly, and they aren't alone in the struggle. Florida Memorial University continues to deal with the fallout from its increase in infections on campus.
At Prairie View A&M University, new recorded infections cases spiked from six on Oct. 15 to 41 cases as of today.
As institutions, all Black colleges are doing all they can with all they have to keep coronavirus from overwhelming their people and operations. And through the beginnings of fall, as many students and alumni were mourning the disappearance of homecoming season, they have been successful.
But this is the season where public health will be under significant strain, and HBCUs will be among the most vulnerable of public and private agencies serving the public good of the masses. Where students were once standing outside to skirt social distancing rules in warmer weather, gatherings will now be inside in closer quarters.
Cuffing season will take on a brand new meaning with unknown risks and consequences, and while most people figure to get by maybe without even being aware of their sickness, some will not.
And all the while, these are just the handful of HBCUs from which COVID-19 statistics are publicly available; nevermind campuses with dozens of infections but are not obligated to report infection data.
While we don't know where the world will be with a vaccine, we do know that days are growing shorter and colder, and numbers are growing more extensive. We know that students returning home for Thanksgiving will be even more eager to return to campus in the spring and coming from cities and states that are likely to re-emerge as coronavirus hotspots during the winter months.
Do we hit the restart button and repeat the shutdown of spring 2020? Do we welcome students back with the likelihood of more infections paired with fewer public health restrictions?
Did we celebrate just a bit too soon?