CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WTVD) -- BREAKING UPDATE:
Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz announced on Monday that, effective Wednesday, August 19, all undergraduate in-person instruction will shift to remote learning.
Due to this announcement as well as the reduction of campus activities, the university expects the majority of its current undergraduate residential students to change their residential plans for the fall.
"Since launching the Roadmap for Fall 2020, we have emphasized that if we were faced with the need to change plans - take an off-ramp - we would not hesitate to do so, but we have not taken this decision lightly," said Guskiewicz.
"There are no easy answers as the nation navigates through the pandemic," said UNC System President Peter Hans. "At this point we haven't received any information that would lead to similar modifications at any of our other universities. Whether at Chapel Hill or another institution, students must continue to wear facial coverings and maintain social distancing, as their personal responsibility, particularly in off-campus settings, is critical to the success of this semester and to protect public health."
After four separate COVID-19 clusters were identified at University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill over the weekend, the dean of one of the highest ranking schools of public health in the country says the return of students to campus isn't working.
In a newsletter called 'Monday Morning,' Dean of UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health Barbara Rimer wrote that "with growing numbers of clusters and insufficient control over the off-campus behavior of students (and others), it is time for an off-ramp. We have tried to make this work, but it is not working."
At 4 p.m. on Monday, university faculty members will hold a special meeting to discuss the clusters. We will live stream that meeting at ABC11.com.
She added that it is "sad and unfortunate" that "too often, choices are not made on the foundation of evidence and science" and said that, at UNC, the chancellor and provost didn't have the "full freedom" to make a decision because the Board of Governors "told system universities they had to reopen and that individual university chancellors could not make those decisions independently."
Her letter comes after COVID-19 clusters were reported at the Sigma Nu fraternity house, the Ehringhaus Community dorm, Hinton James residence hall and Granville Towers apartments.
A "cluster" is defined by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services as five or more cases that are deemed close proximity in location, which can be defined as a single residential hall or dwelling.
According to new numbers released by UNC on Monday, during the week of Aug. 10 to Aug. 16, 130 students tested positive and 824 tested negative for COVID-19. That's a percent positive rate of 13 percent.
The new numbers also show that 87 percent of the campus' isolation capacity is in use.
Before the university reopened, Orange County Health Director Quintana Stewart recommended the university consider virtual classes for at least the first five weeks of the fall semester.
Students were officially allowed to move in on Aug. 3. The fall semester started at UNC on Aug. 10.
On Monday, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services urged college students and university staff to take extra prevention measures, especially in communal living settings like dormitories.
In a statement, NCDHHS officials said:
Because COVID-19 is highly contagious, communal living such as dorms makes it challenging to control virus outbreaks. Preventing infection in the first place is the best strategy. That starts with students and staff practicing the 3Ws of wearing a cloth mask that covers the mouth and nose, waiting six feet apart and washing hands often. We will continue to partner with our higher education community as they work to protect those on their campuses.
Also on Monday, the Orange County Health Department released a statement, saying they were aware of the COVID-19 clusters at UNC and were working with the university.