Coronavirus clusters led the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to cancel in-person classes and urge students to go back home. East Carolina University reported a cluster of cases in a dorm Tuesday. Appalachian State University faculty on Monday passed a vote of no-confidence in the chancellor there, in part because of his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Each campus is different, and I expect situations to evolve differently. In any circumstance, we will be grounded by reliable public health data and prevailing local health conditions,” UNC System President Peter Hans, who oversees all 17 campuses, said in a statement Monday.
“The decision to adapt operations applies to UNC-Chapel Hill only, because no other UNC System institution has reported information, at this time, that would lead to similar modifications,” he said.
UNC Chapel Hill reported 130 students and five staff members tested positive for the coronavirus in the past week.
But UNC isn’t the only campus in the state grappling with COVID-19 and weighing options.
A survey of the available coronavirus data at other UNC System schools shows more than 300 students and employees have tested positive on campuses across the state in the past week. That includes 58 at Appalachian State University, 42 at N.C. State University and 31 at East Carolina University.
N.C. State and ECU have reported case clusters similar to what UNC Chapel Hill reported among students in several dorms. The state defines case clusters as five or more people in close proximity who test positive for the coronavirus.
Here’s the situation at some universities in the UNC System:
North Carolina State University
Classes began for N.C. State students Aug. 10. Thursday, 10 days later, N.C. State announced they would return to all online classes on Aug. 24.
"This week we’ve seen a rapidly increasing trend in COVID-19 infections in the NC State community, including the clusters mentioned above. As of today, through our aggressive contact tracing program we have more than 500 students in quarantine and isolation, mostly off campus, who have either tested positive or have been in contact with someone who has tested positive," Chancellor Randy Woodson said in a campus-wide email.
Woodson said the university would not close residence halls, and libraries, the student union and dining halld would remain open.
Tuesday, the university reported a cluster of cases at off-campus housing near the campus. School officials said there had been a party at the address on Aug. 6.
“Several individuals who have tested positive as part of this cluster have been identified, including some who are NC State students. Contact tracing has been initiated with direct communication to anyone known to have been in close contact with a person who has tested positive for COVID-19,” the school said in a campus-wide email Tuesday.
NC State officials Wednesday alerted the campus to two more case clusters. " These clusters have been identified in the Alpha Delta Pi Sorority House, currently with seven positive cases, and the Kappa Delta Sorority House, currently with six positive cases. Both houses are located in Greek Village at NC State," the university said in the alert.
“A close contact is defined as someone who has been within 6 feet of an infected person for more than 15 minutes when either person has not been wearing a face covering. Those identified as a close contact will be notified directly and provided with further guidance,” the university said.
The university reported 41 students and one employee tested positive last week. As of Monday, the university reported 26 students in quarantine housing on campus.
Appalachian State University
Classes started for App State students Monday. That same day the university’s faculty senate convened to debate a vote of no-confidence in Chancellor Sheri Everts. That vote passed 23 to 12, with six members abstaining.
In an interview with Spectrum News 1, history professor and chair of the faculty senate Michael Behrent said the no-confidence vote was the culmination of long-term issues between the faculty and administration. “The handling of the COVID situation was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” he said.
In a statement after the announcement from UNC Chapel Hill, Everts said university staff have daily meetings with public health officials to monitor coronavirus cases on campus.
“While there is no exact set of metrics that will determine when a UNC System campus may move to all-remote learning, we know that if we can keep the transmission of COVID-19 low, we will be able to stay on campus. If our campus conditions merit a change in plans or approach to instruction or on-campus living, we will communicate any changes as quickly as possible,” the chancellor said.
As of Tuesday, the university reported 47 active cases in students and 11 in employees, all of whom are in isolation.Those reported numbers had dropped to 46 total by Wednesday morning, but it's unclear why.
Tuesday night the university alerted students to a cluster of 11 cases associated with the football team after seven students and four staff members tested positive. The school suspended football practice for now.
For his part, Behrent said he taught his first in-person class since March and said being back in front of his students was “enjoyable” and “energizing.” He said they all wore masks and were physically distanced in the classroom.
“The administration did a pretty good job of preparing for students’ return,” he said. But, he said, his sense was that a majority of faculty on campus would prefer to go online-only as the threat of the coronavirus continues.
East Carolina University
In a campus email Monday, ECU officials reported a coronavirus cluster in its Gateway Residence Hall on campus just one week after students returned to class.
The university did not say how many students in the dorm tested positive. But ECU’s public coronavirus data site said 29 students and two employees tested positive last week.
ECU came under fire recently after reports of large off-campus parties.
In a letter to students Monday, administrators wrote, “There are far too many gatherings at off-campus locations where students are not wearing masks and are not practicing healthy behaviors and doing so in numbers larger than the 25-person limit set forth by the State of North Carolina.”
Interim Chancellor Ron Mitchelson and Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Virginia Hardy ended the letter with a warning: “If we are to continue functioning in an on-campus environment, we simply cannot do this without you – all of you.”
North Carolina Central University
As of Monday, N.C. Central reported four students and seven employees tested positive since July 1. Classes are scheduled to start on campus Aug. 24.
In a letter to students Tuesday, Chancellor Johnson Akinleye said, “North Carolina Central University will continue to operate as we have planned for the fall 2020 semester, which includes face-to-face, hybrid and online classes.”
“We continue to closely monitor all COVID-19 related developments for NCCU and will be guided in all our decisions by recommendations and protocols from local, state and federal health officials,” Akinleye said.
University of North Carolina Asheville
UNC Asheville reported three active cases of COVID-19 since classes there began a week ago.
In a letter to students this week, school administrators said, “UNC Asheville will continue our current format of a combination of in-person, hybrid and online courses.”
“All students, faculty, and staff must continue to wear facial coverings and practice social distancing, not just here on campus, but in off-campus settings as well,” they said.
University of North Carolina Charlotte
As of Tuesday, UNC Charlotte reported four cases of coronavirus in students and employees. But, the university said, “The list does not include individuals who may have confirmed cases but have not reported to campus in the past 14 days or individuals who are self-quarantining without a confirmed diagnosis.”
The Student Government Association this week sent a letter to administrators pushing for the school to return to all online classes.
“Although other universities in the UNC system begin to move forward with their original plan, we believe that UNC Charlotte should set the (precedent) of listening to their student body, faculty and staff,” student body president Tahlieah Sampson wrote in a letter to the university administration.
University of North Carolina Greensboro
Classes began Tuesday for students at UNC Greensboro.
In a message posted Monday, school administrators said, “As of now, the virus has not spread in comparable ways at UNCG, though we continue to monitor the situation very closely.”
“If conditions at UNCG merit a change in plans or approach to instruction or on-campus living, we will communicate any changes as quickly as possible. We have a wide range of contingency plans in place. No matter the scenario, no student will be left without a place to live, and we will work with our students to ensure they have a safe and manageable path forward,” the university said.
University of North Carolina Pembroke
UNC Pembroke reported 26 students and one staff member have tested positive for the virus last week. Classes began at the university Aug. 5.
University of North Carolina Wilmington
Classes at UNC Wilmington are scheduled to start Wednesday and students moved onto campus last week. The university reported seven cases of the coronavirus on campus last week.
In a letter to students Monday, school administrators addressed the closing at UNC Chapel Hill: “Although UNCW has not yet encountered similar circumstances on our campus, we understand this turn of events may cause concern for our faculty, staff and students, especially our residential students and their parents.”
“We are closely observing our campus for similar trends, and we are prepared to pivot to an online modality should conditions warrant,” administrators said.