COVID-19, Education, Higher Ed, News

Campus COVID infections skyrocket: N.C. State at 46%, UNC-Chapel Hill at 32%

After moving all undergraduate classes online last week due to mounting COVID-19 infections, East Carolina University, N.C. State University and UNC-Chapel Hill are this week getting a clearer picture of how broadly the virus spread through their campus shortly after students’ return for the Fall semester.

The COVID-19 dashboard at N.C. State, updated Monday, showed 46% of all the students tested on campus through student health services were positive. Since tracking began in March, there have been 457 positives — 416 students and  41 employees. Those numbers include testing through student health services, self-reports, local health authorities, and other information sources, according to the school.

The weekly update of the UNC-Chapel Hill COVID-19 dashboard, which came late Monday, showed 646 positive tests on the campus since classes began on August 10 — 635 students and 11 employees. That brings the positive percentage on the campus to 32% among students. Those numbers represent those tested through Campus Health or self-reported and measure up through Sunday, according to the school.

On Monday ECU’s COVID-19 dashboard showed 267 positive tests on the campus last week alone — 262 students and five employees. That brings the positive test rate to 26%.

None of these schools have chosen to make testing mandatory for students, faculty or staff. The numbers therefore reflect only those who sought a test or were tested after they were found to be a close contact of someone who tested positive.

Clusters of infections — defined by the state’s Department of Health and Human Services as five or more infections in a related location — suggest wide community spread of the virus at residence halls, in fraternity and sorority houses and in student apartment buildings near the campuses. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention designate these sorts of congregate living arrangements as “highest risk” in its guidance to colleges and universities.

A number of other universities in the system are debating whether to begin or continue on-campus housing and in-person instruction, given the experiences at UNC-Chapel Hill, N.C. State and ECU. Over the weekend UNC-Charlotte announced it would hold undergraduate classes online until Oct. 1, allowing students to move onto campus at the end of September.

COVID-19, Education, Higher Ed, News, public health

App State launches new COVID-19 dashboard, minus promised enhancements

Last week, in the wake of UNC-Chapel Hill announcing it would move all undergraduate courses online in the face of mounting COVID-19 infections, Appalachian State University Chancellor Sheri Everts sent a message to her university community.

While expressing optimism about the campus’ relative position with regard to COVID outbreaks, Everts did address deficiencies in the school’s COVID-19 informational dashboard that students, staff and faculty have been pointing to for weeks.

“In the coming days, we will add enhancements to our reporting dashboard so our university community will have access to additional public health information, including percentages of positive test results,” Everts wrote.

On Monday App State launched its new, revised dashboard — without the promised enhancements.

The new dashboard does not give the number of tests performed, the percentage of positives or other information that is provided on the dashboards of other UNC System schools, including those of UNC-Chapel Hill and N.C. State University.

Information available through other dashboards but not provided by the App State dashboard includes isolation and quarantine room capacity, the number and percentage of courses now being taught in-person vs. remote, the availability of community protective equipment and information about on-campus housing occupancy.

App State’s dashboard appears to simply add two colorful graphs representing information  — cumulative cases on campus and active cases — that was already available before the update.

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COVID-19, Education, Higher Ed, News

UNC-Charlotte Public Health Sciences faculty oppose reopening campus

The Public Health Sciences faculty at UNC-Charlotte is opposing the school’s decision to reopen to on-campus living and in-person instruction in the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

On Sunday the school announced it would begin its Fall semester undergraduate courses online but would resume in-person instruction on Oct. 1. Students would be allowed to move in at the end of September. The school, which was set to begin classes Sept. 7, is the first in the UNC System to move courses online before they’ve actually begun.

But in a Friday letter to UNC-Chancellor Sharon Gaber before that announcement was made, the school’s Public Health Sciences faculty advocated for moving online for the entire fall semester. The goal: to  avoid the outbreaks that have happened at dorms and fraternity and sorority houses at UNC-Chapel Hill, East Carolina University and N.C. State University since those schools began classes earlier this month.

From the letter:

We acknowledge that these decisions are not easy. However, the recent outbreak of cases at multiple universities (1) can provide evidence for the epidemiological arguments against returning to any face-to-face instruction. As such, we focus our attention on the community’s health. It is our shared belief that reopening campus will result in avoidable illness to our campus and surrounding community.

Our University has an opportunity to be a public health role model for the Charlotte region and our state. At this point in time, the Mecklenburg community is seeing a decline in their percent positive cases, daily case counts, and hospitalizations. Our department has worked to develop relationships with local healthcare entities, which are strained as they vocalize concern over our institution’s contribution to potential COVID-19 proliferation. Mecklenburg County Health Department Director, Gibbie Harris, stated that despite our sound plans, she is expecting a rise in COVID-19 cases due to universities reopening (2). While UNC Charlotte is a resourced community, our surrounding areas are not as equipped to handle the effects of the inevitable surge of infections if students are invited back to campus. Furthermore, if we follow other university trends and subsequently move to online instruction after beginning face-to-face, we risk dispersing the virus back into other communities. For these reasons, we believe the best course of action would be to start the semester with virtual-only instruction.

Read the full letter here.

COVID-19, Education, Higher Ed, News

ECU, UNC-Charlotte move undergraduate courses online due to COVID-19

East Carolina University and UNC-Charlotte are the latest UNC System schools to announced they will move all undergraduate courses online in the face of COVID-19.

UNC-Charlotte, which has yet to begin classes, will be online until Oct. 1, according to a message from the school.

ECU plans to shift online for the full fall semester

The announcement came Sunday, after six infection clusters were announced at ECU over the weekend.

“This decision to move online for the fall semester was not made lightly,” said ECU Interim Chancellor Ron Mitchelson in a written statement Sunday. “We are appreciative of the ongoing support and approval of our plan to move forward by UNC System President Peter Hans and public health experts. We believe this decision is best for the well-being of our entire campus community.”

“As I have said during the planning for the Return of Pirate Nation, I believe that we achieve our mission – student and regional success – at much higher levels when we can operate in person and with face-to-face engagement,” Mitchelson said in the statement. “However, ECU is a nationally recognized leader in distance education making us well positioned to make this shift.”

ECU will have students move out of residence halls this week. International students, athletes and those with hardships that require them living on-campus can apply to remain on campus. The school will offer students prorated refunds for housing and dining and is extending its no-penalty withdrawal deadline to 5 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 28, for its first eight-week block of courses. The no-penalty withdrawal deadline for 15-week courses will stay Sept. 4.

UNC-Charlotte, which was to begin in-person classes Sept. 7, is the first school in the system to make the shift before the semester’s courses have actually begun.

“In recent weeks, Mecklenburg County has seen COVID-19-positive cases start to decline and public health officials are encouraged by these trends,” UNC-Charlotte Chancellor Sharon Gaber said in a message to the university community Sunday.  “However, the county continues to have the highest number of outbreaks and clusters in the state. While the community is making considerable progress to slow the rate of transmission, we do not want to lose this momentum.”

The school still plans to allow students to allow students to move into on-campus housing, though the move-in period will now be from Sept. 26-29. International students and those who have extenuating circumstances can apply for an exception to move in during the previously established August 31 – Sept.6 period.

The announcements from ECU and UNC-Charlotte follow similar moves online by UNC-Chapel Hill and N.C. State last week.

“Safety is always our highest priority,” UNC System President Peter Hans said in a written statement released Sunday. “We also care deeply about equitable access to education through the residential experience and the long-term success of our students. This pandemic is forcing disruptions and creating hardships that have brought unprecedented difficulty to every aspect of our lives.”

“Every UNC System institution has unique resources and challenges so flexibility is important to weigh the best course for each campus,” Hans said in the statement. “I want to thank the faculty, staff, and parents for their extraordinary efforts as we all work to provide our students the high-quality education they need and deserve.”


COVID-19, Education, Higher Ed, News

Four new COVID-19 clusters reported in fraternity, sorority houses at N.C. State

N.C. State university reported another four clusters of COVID-19 infections late Friday — all in fraternity or sorority houses.

A cluster is defined by the state Department of Health and Human Services as at least five infections in a related location.

The Sigma Nu fraternity house has 26 cases, the school reported. The house, located in the school’s Greek village, was the site of a party on August 13, the school said in a message to the community. The school is encouraging anyone who attended to be tested.

The Delta Gamma sorority house, also in Greek village, has 15 positives. The Sigma Kappa sorority house has six and the Zeta Tau sorority house, near the 3400 block of Avent Ferry Road in Raleigh, has seven.

Friday’s confirmed clusters are in addition to three infection clusters announced earlier this week, two of which were also at sorority houses. Those earlier clusters were at the Kappa Delta sorority house, which had six positives, and the Alpha Delta Psi sorority house, which had seven. The third cluster was at an off-campus house on Clark Avenue.

The school announced Thursday it would move all undergraduate courses online for the Fall semester as it faces mounting infections.

On Thursday alone the school recorded 94 positive tests — 92 among students and 2 among employees.