UNC delays finalizing spring semester plan amid concerns about COVID-19

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WTVD) -- University of North Carolina Chapel Hill leaders and faculty met on Thursday to discuss changes to the spring semester.

The meeting comes amid growing concerns across the country surrounding the Omicron variant.

The uptick in cases caused some other colleges to adjust return plans but as of Thursday, UNC said it needs more time to make a final decision.

"We believe we are in a better situation if we wait a little bit longer and wait until we have as much information and data as we can to make as informed decision as possible," said Bob Boulin, the executive vice chancellor and provost.

The university did send an email to students, faculty and staff urging them to get vaccinated and a booster shot on Wednesday. As of Wednesday, campus leaders said they were planning to welcome students back as planned but would require prior-to-arrival testing for unvaccinated students, and for all students who live in a residence hall. The letter also urged all students, regardless of their vaccination status to get a test before returning for the spring semester.

For individuals who need a test, they will need to take one 72 hours before returning to campus. UNC is also willing to reimburse for testing costs for up to $65.

Other decisions regarding the next semester have yet to be made. Many faculty had questions about a delayed or remote start, modification to testing, requiring boosters and changing event limitations.

While leaders are considering all factors, Boulin reiterated the campus wants more time to gather data around the new variant.

"We have a plan that has been laid out it was primarily laid out based on our knowledge about Delta. The last six weeks have changed that. We do not have a final plan," he said during Thursday's meeting.

The UNC COVID-19 dashboard does show an uptick in cases. Around 50 students and employees tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday, according to the dashboard. In the past week, around 128 students and staff have tested positive. This is a 540% increase from the previous week when only 20 positive cases were reported between Dec. 9-16.

UNC faculty shared a lot of concerns, questions, and frustrations surrounding the upcoming semester. Many said they hope enough notice is given if classes are remote and that faculty concerns are accounted for during the planning process. They also brought up concerns regarding mental health, allowing flexibility in the plan, and proper masking.

The university aims to release a finalized semester plan by Jan. 3.

Duke University announced on Wednesday that the spring semester will start off-campus.

Classes from Jan. 5-8 will be virtual and in-person classes are expected to resume on Jan. 10.

The message sent to all students, faculty, and staff cited the "rapid spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19" as the reason why classes would be held virtually in January.
Copyright © 2022 WTVD-TV. All Rights Reserved.