Journalism Capstone Blog

As COVID-19 cases dwindle, App State looks to spring semester 

By Moss Brennan and Kat Fast

As COVID-19 was spreading in China at the beginning of the year, App State and AppHealthCare started to talk about. It wasn’t a pandemic level event yet, but the two organizations knew they needed to prepare anyway as a college campus was the perfect breeding ground for the contagious virus. 


Over 300 days of planning later, App State has seen over 1,100 COVID-19 cases and one student death. At its peak in the beginning of October, App State had over 220 active cases among students. 


“This is the biggest challenge this institution has ever faced hands down,” said Megan Hayes, App State’s chief communications officer. “No doubt about it.”


Halfway through the academic year, App State and AppHealthC are continuing to learn and adapt the COVID-19 pandemic. 


“I have absolute confidence that we're coming out of this stronger,” Hayes said. 


AppHealthCare Director Jennifer Greene said the health care organization continues to meet with App State to provide public health guidance and recommendations to help inform planning for the spring semester. 

Over winter break and leading up to the spring semester, Greene said she encourages students to follow local, state and national guidelines related to COVID-19.


“This past fall, we saw a large spike in cases for Watauga County, many of which were App State students,” Greene said. “We want to avoid that happening this winter, because that’s also the time of year when we see an increase in flu and other respiratory viruses.”


Greene said together, the viruses can put more strain on the local health care system, so she encourages everyone to take the virus seriously, wear a mask, wait six feet apart and wash your hands. 

“Until we have a vaccine available for the general public, these are the best actions we can take to protect our healthcare system capacity and lessen sickness and death in our community,” Greene said


Moderna Inc. has requested emergency-use authorization for a vaccine the company says is 95% effective. Other companies have also come forward with news of vaccine developments. Anthony Fauci, the country's top infectious disease expert and a member of the White House COVID-19 task force, said in an interview with NPR the vaccine could be distributed to people by December. 


Fauci said the first doses would most likely go to health care workers and people who are at higher risk. 


The vaccine development is being closely watched by App State. 


“We're keeping a very, very close eye on vaccine development so that we can be ready when the time comes to help be a part of that distribution process,” Hayes said. “It's a lot about logistics so when it comes, will you be ready? And how will you distribute it?”

App State will have mandatory testing for students living in residence halls to start the spring semester.


Hayes said details on mandatory testing are being finalized, but will be pushed out to students soon. The university expects between a 73% to 75% residence hall occupancy for the spring semester, which is about 4,500 students with a capacity of about 6,100.


App State did not require testing for students at the start of the fall semester. 


Targeted testing will also start to take place using wastewater. Hayes said the university is working with the office of research to test wastewater coming out of residence halls. 

“That gives us information about how to identify areas for targeted testing,” Hayes said. 


According to the Centers for Disease and Control, COVID-19 is detectable in wastewater several days before reported cases in a community. Conducting targeted wastewater surveillance includes sampling wastewater from upstream in a wastewater network, at places like lift stations, interceptors and manholes. 


Other universities are also using the method to spot cases including the UNC Charlotte, University of Arizona, University of Virginia and Colorado State University. 


Hayes also said students can expect to see more uses of the rapid antigen COVID-19 tests which give results in 15 minutes. Over the fall semester, App State has done over 25,000 total COVID-19 tests for students, faculty and staff. 


Like the fall semester, App State will also provide free face masks. In the spring, the university will give out five face masks per person each with a different design. The university gave out three masks of the same design in the fall. 


Hayes said distribution of the masks will be similar to this past semester.


Boone PD responds to COVID-10

How the App State Library deals with COVID-19

Lifestyle Journalist interviews


Lifestyle and feature writing type journalism is important. After doing my two interviews — one with a freelance reporter and one with a reporter who's been with a newsroom for 30 years — I realize it's more important that I thought. 

As Denise Watson from the Virginian-Pilot put it, lifestyle journalism is everything but the veggies. The veggies — in journalism as Watson put it — are those hard hitting news pieces like information about taxes, the city council and the school board. Those are what people might not want to read, but it's needed. Lifestyle journalism is the stuff that is fun and not necessary for a super healthy diet, but good to to consume to make you feel better. 

I had never really thought that way about lifestyle journalism, but I think it makes perfect sense. That kind of journalism is where you can go to feel better and get away from the news that can be depressing and not as great to read. It's more fun to put it in simple terms. 


One thing I noticed in my interviews is neither person really used instagram. Watson didn't know really what an Instagram influencer was and Lauren Steele didn't use Instagram much at all outside personal use. That somewhat surprised me, but they did say they use other social media more than Instagram. I think for them, Twitter and Facebook is more important. 

Another thing that Watson talked about that stuck with me is how she handles had speech and people being racist. She said that unless it's part of the story in a big way, she doesn't introduce it. Of course, if the story is about something like that, it needs to be in there. But otherwise, she doesn't let it in. She told me about a story she did for the good during COVID and people would say "Chinavirus" and she would change it to "coronavirus" because that's not changing it and it gets rid of the racist language. 

Overall, I learned a lot about lifestyle journalism from these interviews. While this may not be the kind of journalism I want to do for a career, it did give me better insight into what it's like and allowed me to think of it in ways I hadn't before. 

As COVID-19 cases rise, App State and AppHealthCare continues building relationship

By Moss Brennan and Kat Fast

When COVID-19 started spreading at the beginning of the year, App State officials knew they would need to meet with AppHealthCare to mitigate any future harm to the App State community.


Taylor Rushing, medical director of App State Student Health Services said meetings begin around the first of the year, when COVID-19 was identified. 


“As the spread widened, those meetings increased and we now meet daily,” Rushing said. 


Those meetings take place every day at 2 p.m. and involve members from AppHealthCare and App State administration. 


"Working with the AppHealthCare team has allowed us to consistently inform our campus community, while also offering important, data-driven safety and prevention information,” said Megan Hayes, App State’s chief communications officer. 


With nearly 1,500 cases in Watauga County and over 800 at App State alone, those daily meetings are where the groups look at the data and address any challenges that have come up.

Chancellor Sheri Everts said AppHealthCare has made itself available daily in support of App State’s educational mission. 


“I appreciate the critical work of our local public health team, which has helped us create a safer campus environment," Everts said. 


Jennifer Greene is the health director at AppHealthCare, which serves Alleghany, Ashe and Watauga counties. She has been with AppHealthCare since 2004 and has served as the health director since December 2017. 


Serving in this role during the pandemic has been “intense” for Greene. 


“I feel a great deal of responsibility to the community,” Greene said. “You know, all of the community. All the parts of the community to try to keep people healthy and safe.”


A big part of the community — over 20,000 in fact— are the students at App State.


Like every relationship, Greene said there have been challenges especially during the pandemic. Part of the challenge is that both AppHealthCare and App State have to face outside pressures related to the pandemic. 


Part of the relationship comes from open communication about concerns and actions that need to take place. 


"Because of our relationship with the AppHealthCare team, we have a much fuller picture we can use as we make data-driven decisions about health and safety on our campus,” said Jason Marshburn, director of Environmental Safety and Emergency Management. 

A key challenge the university and AppHealthCare works together on is contact tracing among students. 


Greene said if a student, faculty or staff member can’t be reached by a public health official then the university will step in and help contact that person. 


Some of the conversations Greene said take place between AppHealthCare and App State is how to get students to respond to the contact tracing calls. Those who do get called for contact tracing won’t get in trouble, Greene said. 


“That's how we protect the broader campus community and the community here in Boone,” Greene said. “We can't do contact tracing and all the work that we're doing without some good partnership with the university.”


The pandemic isn’t the first time AppHealthCare and App State have had to work closely with each other. 


“We have a history of working with them on all types of communicable diseases, such as mumps,” said Margaret Bumgarner, administrative director of student health services. 


Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs JJ Brown said the university has a longstanding relationship with Greene and her team that was built while responding to communicable diseases and other public health challenges over years. 


One of those public health challenges occurred right before COVID-19 really started affecting Watauga County when three cases of mumps were confirmed in students living off-campus. 


“That's probably what's helped us get through this whole pandemic a little easier because we already knew each other,” Greene said. “We already had working relationships and trust for each other before we went into this.”

App State largest school to remain on campus as testing numbers soar

By Moss Brennan and Kat Fast
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With COVID-19 shutting down multiple UNC System campuses, App State is one of the largest schools to still have in person classes despite growing COVID-19 numbers. 


UNC Charlotte — one of the largest UNC System schools — delayed in person classes until October. The school opted to remain virtual for the first few weeks of the semester to prevent the spread of COVID-19.


Out of the 17 UNC System schools, only seven post data related to testing.

App State is ranked third when it comes to testing — only behind East Carolina University and North Carolina State University. Both ECU and NC State have more than double the amount of total cases. App State has reported 529 total cases since March 27. 

Since students moved in, App State has offered a free testing event each week for faculty, staff and students. 


On Friday, Chancellor Sheri Everts told the App State Board of Trustees the free testing events would be scheduled at least once a week for the foreseeable future. 


“As of this week, between student health services and on campus pop-up sites, we have tested 6,151 faculty, staff and students with an average weekly positive test rate of 3.4% for a total of 207 people,” Everts said. 


Everts told the board the free testing helps augment testing done by student services health staff each day. 


“Student Health Service staff are administering 70-80 tests a day,” said App State spokesperson Megan Hayes. “With the pop-up testing capacity, we've been able to administer more than 1,000 tests each week nearly every week since students moved in the week of Aug. 10.”

Once someone gets to the testing site, they get a form asking to register for the testing. 

Completed test kits are sent to Mako Medical Laboratories in Raleigh. They have over 125 laboratory staff members and can process over 25,000 test kits per day, according to their website.

Test kits have a three-day turnaround: one day to ship, one day to process the sample and one day to generate results. After the three days, people who were tested can access their results through the Mako website.


Hayes said each testing site has the capacity to test up to 600 people.


At the beginning of the summer and early in the fall semester, App State used Mountaineer Hall for quarantine space. 


“During that time, the rooms were separated from others, and students had food delivered and were checked on frequently,” Hayes said. “As of the end of August, all quarantine space provided by the university is in off-campus locations.”


Elizabeth Tilson, North Carolina state health director and chief medical officer, said COVID-19 is a highly contagious disease. 


“We all need to do our part to stay safe and slow the spread in our communities, including getting tested when we may have been exposed to COVID-19,” Tilson said. “Getting tested helps everyone – the person tested, their loved ones, and fellow North Carolinians.” 


The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services also released a new app called SlowCOVIDNC that will notifiy someone if they were exposed to someone with COVID-19.


“Using this app is strongly encouraged for those who are often in environments where many people gather, including those in college and university communities,” Tilson said. 


At App State, contact tracing is done by public health officials and Hayes said App State helps with communication to students. 


The app is available on IOS and Android devices. 


“Using this app and seeking testing when necessary are two tools that will help us slow the spread of COVID-19, but preventing infection in the first place is our best strategy,” Tilson said. “This means practicing the three Ws and avoiding large gatherings when possible.”

Brendan Grove, a business management major, hadn’t gotten tested by campus before the Sept. 12 free testing event. 


He said his experience with the testing site was “pretty good.”


“I just wanted to be safe,” Grove said. “There’s no way to know whether or not I might catch it so I just decided now was a good time to come.”


Kazoua Thao, a studio art major, has not been tested for COVID-19 but knows about the RiversStreet testing site. She said she thought App State has done a “really good job” when it comes to testing. 


The next free testing site is Sept. 26 at the Rivers Street parking deck from 12 to 5 p.m. 


“The biggest incentive (to get tested) is to protect your friends, family and community. Peace of mind is very valuable,” Hayes said. “No one wants to be responsible for getting others sick.”

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Why Mobile? 

Best photos - Red

One of the biggest questions that mobile journalism raises for me is who can you trust? The "How The 21st Century Changed Journalism" raised this with a great mobile journalist and I think his answer was telling. His answer when asked who to trust was that it's one of the biggest challenges.


He also mentioned how people look to see on Twitter if the person is a journalist and does he have a check mark? "One day a blue check mark was added to my profile and everyone believed everything I said." This answer by Tim Pool also brings up another point about how Twitter can control who has the power.

So why mobile if it can lead to more citizen journalists and more information to shift through?

A simple reason, in my opinion, is money. With this pandemic causing hundreds of newspaper offices to close — some permanently — many journalists are working remotely. What is mobile journalism? Working on the move, using available resources and getting news up fast. 

With newsrooms closing, journalists have to adapt. And they are. 

There is a huge social movement happening. Millions of people have been taking to the streets protesting the police and how they treat marginalized communities. So how have journalists covered this movement? By being on the ground, mobile and right in the action. 

Mobile journalism is the direction I 100% believe my career will lean toward. My goal is to work as a disaster reporter covering large scale events across the country and world. These types of disaster events don’t allow for a lot of wiggle room to have all the right equipment right away or have a lot of time to write up a report. So what skills will I need? 

How to take good, quality photos on my phone. How to edit and shoot video on the go. How to cut and edit audio effectively. And how to write up stories in the field, surrounded by who knows what.  

So, again, why mobile journalism? Because that’s where the industry is heading toward and that’s where my career will take me.

Three Shot Sequence

What makes this great?

Richard Engel is one of the journalists I look up to. His reporting is always top notch and he genuinely cares about what he reports on. He also does what I want to ultimately do — report from hot spots around the world. 

I had plenty to choose from when it comes to pieces he has done over the years, but I chose this piece from a few weeks ago on exclusive interviews with the ISIS "Beatles." The two men were part of a ISIS cell who captured two Americans — including journalist James Foley who was beheaded. 

One of the best parts of this segment is the use of stills right away. Instead of talking about the exclusive interview, Engel immediately puts a face to the story. The pictures automatically make you relate to Kayla Mueller (another woman who was captured and killed). The images show Mueller picking smelling flowers and smiling while the sound bite talks about how she was captured and killed by ISIS. It also jumps to other pictures as other people are named which reenforces the humanity of this story. 

When it cuts to the first interview, the editor did a few jump cuts to some of the statements which is usually not the best, but in this case it reenforces what the ISIS member is saying. 

At about the 1.40 mark, the use of a close up that then pans is really nice. Engel says they showed the Mueller's dad the interview and that's what the viewer is seeing on their screen — him looking at the video clip. That again just shows how human this story is and who was impacted by these two men. 

Engel also adds in a clip of him asking the mom a pretty powerful question and switches back to the mom as soon as she starts answering. That's a nice use of camera work that brings the viewer closer to the action. 

Overall, this was a really nice clip that used a lot of what was talked in class as far as voiceovers, camera shots and reporting technique. By bringing the humanity as the front and center of this story, it's great. 

How has using the iPads gone?


Multimedia is all about using mobile tools and devices to get work done on the go. In this class, we are using the iPad mini as our main tool for mobile journalism. So far, using the iPad has not been the worst experience. I have never really used an iPad so the main struggle has been figuring out the best practices when using it.

I have always been a proponent of using a camera and audio recorder for my journalistic work. For me, taking pictures with the iPad was a little hard for the best photos project. Some of the photos I had to hold the leaf up in a position to get the shot and holding the iPad to get the shot was hard. Using  a tripod that the iPad could go on would make life a lot easier, but maybe less mobile. 

One nice aspect of the iPad is it takes really nice photos for a mobile device. The camera is surprisingly strong and creates really sharp pictures. Using the apps also helped with focusing the picture and and having good exposure. 

As far as the apps go, most of them seem pretty simple and straightforward. A lot of the apps are similar to ones I’ve used before. The photo apps were a little tricky to figure out all the could do at first, but after messing around with it for a few it became easy. 

I have not used the microphone set up yet, but I am not super worried about that as I have experience with audio and Adobe Rush. The main concern is figuring out how to upload it as I have not done that in a long time. 

Overall, I think using the mobile kit is going well so far. I haven’t run into anything that I haven’t been able to work through. The main thing I have to work through is not being able to do my normal journalistic routine with cameras, audio and data work. Other than that, it’s been a good experience in which I’m looking forward to getting better at.