CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WTVD) -- Sharing meals with friends and gathering on campus is a quintessential part of university life. At UNC-Chapel Hill, students have more designated spaces to do so safely amid the latest COVID-19 surge.
During the Labor Day weekend, the university installed six new canopies in the heart of campus; four of them surround Lenoir Dining Hall while two more are outside Manning and Carroll halls.
Tables and chairs will soon arrive for the covered platforms on the quad that will resemble the 165 seats already available under the nearby Polk Place canopy which has been up since last year.
"You see how much students missed -- well, the returning students -- missed an on-campus experience," said Scott Myers, UNC's Director of Auxiliary Services.
In all, Myers said students will now have more than 850 outdoor seating options to take advantage of as the cooler fall weather moves in.
"In addition to reducing seats in the dining locations and taking all the safety protocols that we can, they should feel comfortable with their options," he said.
UNC students returning to campus are grateful to be back and hope to stay, many applauding the university's decision to expand outdoor seating.
"From what I've seen and how last year went, it seems like they've made a very good rebound so far," UNC junior Michael Mix said.
Since August, UNC has reported 569 COVID-19 cases, 491 of those among students, according to the university's COVID-19 dashboard.
UNC staff tell ABC11, the decision to add canopies was made prior to a student government meeting last week in which students, including Lamar Richards, UNC's Student Body President, criticized the administration for its handling of COVID-19 on campus.
Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz was invited to attend but he declined, sending an email to Richards in which he accused him of misrepresenting the purpose of the meeting, calling it a publicity stunt.
Students ultimately voted to send a list of demands to university leadership including a vaccine mandate for the campus community, an outdoor mask mandate and increased COVID-19 testing sites.
Students on campus who spotted the additional outdoor seating said they were pleased with the protocols.
"I think they're doing what they can while still being able to provide students with this kind of community atmosphere," UNC junior Kasie Welch said.