Published: 18th August 2020
University of North Carolina switches to remote instruction for UG students after hundreds test COVID-19 positive
Before classes resumed at UNC-Chapel Hill on August 10, ten students and one employee had tested positive, Cluster of cases surfaced in several residences
The University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill on Monday said that it will shift to all-remote instruction for undergraduate classes after dozens of students tested positive for COVID-19.
The abrupt change was done just a week after classes began at the 30,000-student state flagship university, The Washington Post reported.
Officials said that 177 COVID-19 cases were confirmed among students, among the hundreds tested. Another 349 students were in quarantine, on and off-campus, due to the possible exposure of the infection.
The remote-teaching for undergraduate classes will begin from Wednesday and the university will take steps to permit students to leave the campus housing without financial penalty.
"We understand the concern and frustrations these changes will raise with many students and parents," UNC-Chapel Hill's chancellor, Kevin M Guskiewicz, and provost, Robert A Blouin, said in a statement.
"As much as we believe we have worked diligently to help create a healthy and safe campus living and learning environment, we believe the current data presents an untenable situation," they said.
They added, "So far, we have been fortunate that most students who have tested positive have demonstrated mild symptoms."
Clusters of COVID-19 cases in Chapel Hill had surfaced in three residence halls and a fraternity house in the first week of the fall term, forcing students to isolate themselves and raising concerns among the faculty as to how the disease will spread in the campus community, according to The Washington Post.
Before classes resumed at UNC-Chapel Hill on August 10, ten students and one employee had tested positive. A cluster of cases surfaced in the residences known as Granville Towers, Ehringhaus and Hinton James, as well as the Sigma Nu fraternity house, as per the text alerts sent to the students by the university.
The university's dashboard showed 130 students testing positive for COVID-19 last week out of the 954 tested. Five employees have also tested positive.
"After only one week of campus operations, with growing numbers of clusters and insufficient control over the off-campus behaviour of students (and others), it is time for an off-ramp. We have tried to make this work, but it is not working," Barbara K Rimer, dean of public health at UNC-Chapel Hill, wrote in a statement on Monday.
Clusters are defined as at least five cases in a residence.
Public health conditions at UNC-Chapel Hill were being closely monitored as colleges and universities across the US resumed classes this month, with some of them undertaking remote instruction and others with a mix of online and face-to-face teachings.
UNC-Chapel Hill has about 20,000 undergraduates and 10,000 graduate students. It is housing around 5,800 students this month in campus housing -- less than two-thirds of capacity -- with others living off-campus in Chapel Hill and nearby communities.
Over half of classes had some in-person teaching on opening day, although faculties have been switching to online mode in recent weeks.
Before the first day of class, university officials said that they were confident with the arrangements but would closely monitor how many cases would surface and other data, including the number of students in quarantine. Officials asserted that many students appeared to be taking public health rules seriously as they were wearing masks and following physical distancing from each other while attending classes.
Also, reports have emerged of a risky gathering of students in close quarters and not wearing face masks in college towns including Tuscaloosa, home of the University of Alabama, and Dahlonega, home of the University of North Georgia, The Washington Post reported.
A cluster of 23 confirmed COVID-19 cases was reported from a sorority house at Oklahoma State University.
There have been 58 confirmed cases of the infection at the University of Notre Dame, which is one week into its term. But officials are keeping a close watch on off-campus parties in South Bend, Indiana. "That has caused us concern", Paul Browne, the university's vice president for public affairs and communications, was quoted as saying.