Area universities grapple with how to handle COVID-19 cases

ByDeJuan Hoggard and Samantha Kummerer WTVD logo
Tuesday, August 18, 2020
Area universities grapple with how to handle COVID-19 cases
Several universities in North Carolina are currently dealing with how best to respond to COVID-19 as students return to school.

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WTVD) -- Several universities in North Carolina are currently trying to determine how best to respond to COVID-19 as students return to school.

As the 2020-2021 school years begins, universities like East Carolina University, UNC Chapel Hill, Duke University, North Carolina State University, Shaw University, and North Carolina Central University are taking different steps to prevent and respond to the novel coronavirus.

On the campus of UNC Chapel Hill, the school announced Monday that it would be transitioning all undergraduate students to remote learning after a fourth COVID-19 cluster was reported on campus. In an interview with CNN, student body president Reeves Mooseley said the Board of Governors treated the campus as a 'guinea pig'. "Eight out of the 17 UNC System schools still haven't come back to campus," Mooseley said. "UNC, was for lack of a better phrase, a guinea pig for all the students across North Carolina."

Weeks ago, faculty at UNC wrote a letter to the Board of Governors requesting authority to decide the school's reopening plans at the local level.

"I wanted us to be able to make any modification we needed to make in response to changing conditions," said faculty chair Mimi Chapman. "I was calling for our campus to have local control over decision making."

RELATED: UNC faculty members file class action complaint against Board of Governors

From August 10-16, UNC-Chapel Hill reported 130 students and five employees test positive for the virus.

UNC-Chapel Hill officials said they did not require students to test negative for COVID-19 before returning to campus, citing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

"Testing everyone prior to their reentry to the campus could create a false sense of security," the University wrote online. "The CDC does not recommend widespread, asymptomatic testing, and instead recommends that all individuals take preventative measures to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus."

At Duke University, the school's website reads: "All Duke students are required to get a COVID-19 test before they are permitted to enter university housing or attend class on campus. In addition to the mandatory arrival testing, all students are required to participate in the university's pooled surveillance program, which begins this week. The university also requires anyone on campus to use a face covering and observe physical distancing requirements."

The school last reported 11 positive students with the virus, out of more than 5,700 completed tests, who have since been placed in isolation.

North Carolina State University just announced a COVID-19 cluster in an off-campus housing facility near the 2700 block of Clark Avenue in Raleigh. A "cluster" is defined as five or more cases that are deemed close proximity or location, per the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.

At last check, the university reported 41 total students with the virus. However, that number only reflects students who were tested by the school's Student Health Services staff. A test costs $115 and is covered mostly by insurance. Students tested elsewhere are not required to report their testing results to the university. However, campus health officials encourage students to self-report if they test positive.

In Greenville, on the campus of East Carolina University, there was a weekend party of nearly 400 college co-eds broken up by local authorities. To date, the school has conducted 1,458 COVID-19 tests; 108 students and 17 faculty members have tested positive.

At Shaw University in Raleigh, a campus spokesperson said, "Following the recommended CDC guidelines, Shaw University requires masks, daily health screenings, social distancing, and hand washing. The campus is operating at 50% density in residence halls. Shaw has modified the cafeteria and classrooms to ensure social distancing. Because the CIAA made the early decision to suspend Fall sports, there has been little activity with student athletes, marching band, and other affinity groups. The University will evaluate the number of cases, quarantine/isolation capacity, and consult with public health officials in deciding whether a shift to fully on-line course delivery is the best course of action. Shaw recognizes there will probably be a slight increase in positive cases later in the semester when athletic teams train for spring sports."

In Durham at North Carolina Central University, school officials said, "Student safety is NCCU's No. 1 priority and students have been urged to take their behavior and decision-making seriously - whether on or off-campus - and consider the impact of their decisions not only on their health, but also on their friends, family, professors, staff and other community members. 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."

Clemson University said it plans to sample 600 off-campus students a week, according to its website.

"While there is no way to guarantee the entire community returns to campus COVID-free, these testing guidelines will limit active cases on campus and provide a baseline of incidence in the community," the university's site stated.

Some universities like Duke and the University of South Carolina are planning on conducting a weekly pooled surveillance testing program.

More institutions pointed to daily health assessments. UNC-Charlotte students receive a daily email with a survey on health, and Duke students have an app through which they can report health conditions.