UNC System sees first COVID-19 case, begins closing dorms and dining halls

The UNC System has its first confirmed case of COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus, the university office confirmed late Tuesday.

An employee at UNC-Chapel Hill has tested presumptively positive and is self-isolating at home. Those who have had direct contact with the employee are being notified, according to a UNC alert.

UNC-Chapel Hill’s residence halls will be closed to all students except under “special circumstances,” according to a campus-wide e-mail from Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz sent Tuesday. Students who are currently on campus will need to begin moving out no later than Saturday, March 21, at 5 p.m., according to the e-mail.

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“Exceptions will be made for a small number of emergency staff, administrators and researchers, as well as for students who are granted special circumstances waivers to remain in campus residence halls,” according an e-mail from the university.

Students who need to remain on campus must apply for a waiver by Wednesday, March 18, at 5 p.m.

UNC Libraries, Campus Recreation, Student Stores and classroom buildings are all closing as well.

Campus Dining Services will also be converted to takeout-only  and will be for students with approved waivers to stay on campus, a move echoing the closing of restaurants and bars except for delivery and takeout being closed throughout the state  by Gov. Roy Cooper’s Tuesday executive order.

All 17 UNC System institutions will be taking similar measures as meets their individual campus needs and schedule throughout this week, according to the system office.

UNC System Interim President Dr. Bill Roper released a video Wednesday morning, providing an update on the quickly evolving situation and the university system’s reactions to the pandemic.

From Roper’s statement:

As you all know, we are in the midst of a very serious health crisis. COVID-19 presents the UNC System and North Carolina with some unprecedented challenges.

 In the face of trying circumstances, we have all joined together in a team effort to help those we serve . The past three weeks have been among the most challenging in our University System’s history, and we have responded with a System-wide sense of purpose and a remarkable, unified team effort.   I am proud of all that has been accomplished.  And if you are a UNC System student, employee, faculty member, university leader, or volunteer – you should be too.

 Faculty and staff have all adapted quickly to a rapidly changing environment. Together, we are facing COVID-19 with ingenuity and an inspiring spirit of collaboration. Your efforts are indispensable to the UNC System’s focus on the health and safety of our students, faculty, and staff, and the delivery of our core academic mission.

 Special thanks to everyone who continues to work on site to assist those students who can’t return home due to extenuating circumstances. You are indispensable to our commitment to serving those students who depend on campus facilities for food, shelter, and access to online materials. If you are one of our students with special circumstances, I urge you to reach out and complete any exemption forms that will ensure you have what you need to continue your education.

 This week offered a vivid reminder of why our University System is so critical to North Carolina and the value of our shared commitment in all that we do.

 On Wednesday, UNC Medical Center and UNC School of Medicine in Chapel Hill announced that they have developed a diagnostic test for COVID-19. This new test will be used at UNC Health hospitals and select clinics across our state, allowing for more testing capacity at the state health department and LabCorp in North Carolina.

 This effort exemplifies how the UNC System’s work isn’t just good for our students. … it benefits all North Carolinians.

 Witnessing our faculty, students, families and leaders at every level of the UNC System community rallying together has filled me with great optimism. These are challenging times, and the UNC System is rising to the challenge.

 Thank you … and be well.”

Policy Watch will continue to provide updates on ongoing changes and cover their impact on students, faculty and staff.

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