Thirty-seven members of the UNC-Chapel Hill athletics community have tested positive for COVID-19 since student athletes began returning to campus for conditioning and practices, the school announced Wednesday.
The school is not identifying those who are positive or saying from which sport program they come, but the Orange County Health Department has identified a cluster — at least five cases — that are related. Players and coaches for the men’s and women’s basketball teams and the football team are on campus now. Coaches and staff for soccer, cross country, field hockey and volleyball have all already returned to campus. Students for those sports are scheduled to return later this month.
The football program will halt its voluntary workouts for at least a week, the school said in a release.
UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz has repeatedly refused to say how many infections would make the school reconsider its plan for bringing students back to campus or lead to a return to online-only education at the school. He has said that clusters of infections, such as the one now apparent nearly a month before students are scheduled to return to campus for classes, would be a serious concern.
Student-athletes who tested positive will be required to self-isolate for up to 14 days until they test negative, the school said in its Wednesday release. All coaches and staff members who test positive are also required to isolate at home for up to two weeks. Those who are considered ‘close contacts’ of those who have tested positive will also be told to self-isolate.
UNC Hospitals and Campus Health have performed 429 tests since June 1.
“The safety and well-being of our campus and local community has been our top priority when building our plans for return,” the school said in the release. “We have consulted our infectious disease experts as well as state and local officials during the process.”
The announcement comes the same day that a UNC-system wide petition was launched by faculty to make online courses the default for the fall semester , citing record numbers of COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations in the state.
“Because the COVID-19 epidemic is not yet under control and because communities surrounding our campuses are put at risk by campus activities, it is unsafe for students and instructors to return to face-to-face instruction,” the petition states. “Online or remote teaching should be the default mode on all campuses during the fall 2020 semester.”