COVID-19, Education, Higher Ed, News, Uncategorized

UNC-Chapel Hill launches COVID-19 dashboard, shows 173 infections as students return to dorms this week

UNC-Chapel Hill, the flagship school of the UNC System, has launched its own COVID-19 data dashboard as students have begun moving back to campus.

Similar to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services dashboard, UNC-Chapel Hill’s shows the number of tests conducted, the number of positives, the capacity at the school for isolation and quarantine as well as the number and percentage of courses being taught face-to-face, online-only and in a “hyflex” model. The percentage of student tests and positives by week is also provided in the dashboard.

 

 

Last updated on July 31, the  dashboard now shows 173 infections among UNC community members — 137 of them students. That number includes the previously discloses 37 positive tests that led the school to temporarily suspend workouts among student athletes who returned to campus early.

Thirteen of those infections were recorded in the last week of July, before most students moved in to dorms. Students are scheduled to arrive from Aug. 3-10 in appointed time windows.

The university is not doing mass-testing of students, faculty or staff who do not show symptoms, saying that negative tests could give people a false sense of security. That could lead to them taking fewer precautions, administrators have said, and community spread is the greatest danger.

According to the dashboard, the university had tested 1,289 students as of July 31. The 10.6 percent total positive rate among students tested is higher than the current statewide 8 percent total positive rate.

 

Commentary, COVID-19

Moral Mondays movement goes national and virtual this afternoon to protest Senate’s relief blockade

In case you missed it, the national Poor People’s Campaign will be hosting a one hour, online protest this afternoon at 3:30 to demonstrate against the U.S. Senate’s continued blockade of adequate pandemic relief legislation. This is from the announcement for the event that the group has entitled “Moral Monday to Stop McConnell’s Misery, Meanness and Mayhem”:

On Monday at 3:30pm ET /12:30pm PT the Poor People’s Campaign will launch a Moral Monday to Stop McConnell’s Misery, Meanness and Mayhem. Senate Majority Leader McConnell is too comfortable with the thousands of deaths and untold suffering from the pandemics of COVID-19, systemic racism and poverty. In this urgent crisis of leadership, we must come together to demand a full and just relief package that lifts from the bottom.

RSVP Now to Join PPC Co-chairs and Movement Family on Moral Monday to Stop McConnell’s Misery, Meanness and Mayhem.

As Mother Jones taught us, we will “Pray for the dead, fight like hell for the living!”

It has been nearly five months since this government took action in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. We are now facing the worst public health crisis in a century and an economic recession that rivals the Great Depression.

Before the pandemic, there were already 140 million people who were poor or one emergency away from being poor. Now, 50 million unemployment claims have been filed since March and 20 million Americans face evictions in the days ahead, while at the same time US billionaires have increased their wealth by over $700 billion.

Yet, under Mitch McConnell’s leadership, the Senate Republicans have proposed a bill that will leave citizens and states with fewer protections and funds. Instead of bolstering unemployment benefits and extending renter protections, the proposed bill actually increases the military budget, maintains tax breaks for the wealthy, undermines public schools’ ability to safely reopen and institutes legal immunity for corporations and companies that are forcing people back to work in unsafe conditions.

Join us for a Moral Monday to Stop McConnell’s Misery, Meanness and Mayhem, this Monday, August 3, 2020 at 3:30pm ET as we honor the dead, flood the phone lines of Majority Leader McConnell and push for a full and just relief package.

Forward together, not one step back!

Rev. Dr. William Barber and Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis
Co-Chairs, Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival

COVID-19, Education, Higher Ed, News

UNC-Chapel Hill Commission: too many hurdles for return to campus in pandemic

On Friday, as students began returning to dorms at UNC System schools across the state, UNC Chapel Hill’s Commission on Campus Equality & Student Equity released an emergency resolution regarding the return to campus during the worsening COVID-19 pandemic in the state. The resolution condemns the university’s lack of communication with students about its decisions and how they are reached.

The commission’s conclusion: it is simply too dangerous for tens of thousands of students, staff and faculty to return to in-person instruction.

The Bell Tower on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

“Through our dialogue with undergraduates, graduate and professional students, and community residents, we have found that major concerns currently exist regarding internet accessibility, effective adherence to community guidelines, and the lack of asynchronous course offerings,” the commission wrote in its resolution. “Presently, there are too many health and socioeconomic hurdles in place for both our students and the residents of Chapel Hill to confidently state that it is appropriate to bring students back to our campus.”

“We realize that such a decision will place our facilities workers at risk, but we have requested that these workers be reassessed for other ways they can contribute to the Carolina community and that the University take all necessary precautions to prevent the job loss of these workers while aiming to keep our students and families safe,” the commission wrote.

“We condemn the University’s lack of acknowledgement and actionable response to the thousands of students, facilities workers, and faculty members that have expressed grave life-threatening concerns regarding an in-person return,” the resolution read.

The move comes the same week 30 tenured professors at the university published an open letter urging students to stay home in the Fall  semester.

“Your experience as a Chapel Hill undergraduate is a journey we are delighted to join and feel fortunate to be a part of,” the professors wrote. “We want to be in the classroom teaching you.”

“However, we cannot, in good conscience, perform that role on campus this semester,” they wrote. “We need to stay safe from Covid-19 by staying at home – and we need you to stay home in order to protect yourselves and your fellow students, your teachers, the many workers who serve you on campus, the residents of Chapel Hill and Carrboro, and your own family members and loved ones.”

Read the Commission on Campus Equality & Student Equity resolution in its entirety here.

COVID-19, Education, Higher Ed, News

UNC System releases report on “worst case” budget cut scenarios

Late Friday the UNC System released a 66 page report summarizing how its 17 campuses would react to budget cuts due to enrollment drops ranging from 2 percent up to 50 percent due to the impact of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The report comes after UNC Board of Governors Chairman Randy Ramsey directed the school’s chancellors to prepare “worst case scenario” planning documents earlier this month.

Policy Watch obtained a copy of the email calling for the plans, was first to report it and has been pursuing the documents since.

Ramsey’s original email to chancellors called for “a plan from each chancellor to reduce their budgets by between 25% and 50%, to account for the reduced revenue resulting from reduced enrollment under various degrees of closure.”

The 66-page summary report is more complex.

It is accompanied by a statement from the UNC System on its preparation, describing seven potential scenarios by which the schools would see drops in enrollment due to various reactions to the worsening COVID-19 pandemic in the state.

“The seven potential scenarios assume various enrollment decreases, ranging from a minimum of 2% through a maximum of 50%, with an emphasis on the -2% through -10% models,” the statement reads. “Variable decreases in revenue and expenses were also incorporated into each financial model.”

The seven reaction scenarios in the document include:

* New Normal (status quo)

* Social Distancing Only

* Online Fall 2020 (enrollment -2% + Mandatory fees)

* Online Fall 2020 (enrollment -5%)

* Online Fall 2020 (enrollment -10%)

* Online Fall 2020 (enrollment -25%)

*Online Fall 2020 (enrollment -50%)

The 66-page report also includes summaries from each university of the potential impacts. Most emphasize that they do not anticipate the dramatic enrollment drops and spending cuts in the “worst case scenario” plans to be necessary in the coming year.

Under the highest-impact scenarios most schools anticipated extreme actions like the furloughs of all non-essential employees, elimination of positions, salary reductions for those who remain, increased teaching loads for faculty, the closing of residence halls to all students except those with nowhere else to live, the spending down of university fund balances to pay debt service.

UNC System sources and administrators at individual UNC schools were not available for comment late Friday. But several of the chancellors did send messages to their faculty and staff commenting on what they would see in the report, most again emphasizing how unlikely the worst scenarios are in reality.

N.C. State University is the UNC school with the largest enrollment. The provost and vice chancellor for financial administration at N.C. State sent the following message to faculty and staff:

First and foremost, under no foreseeable circumstances do we expect to see budget reductions anywhere near 25%. State support remains strong, our enrollment for the fall remains solid, our research enterprise is performing well and beginning today several thousand students are moving into on-campus housing. At this time, we do not anticipate campuswide reductions to be necessary for the fall semester.

Of course, NC State will look different this fall, which may create financial challenges in some areas. To ensure physical distancing, campus will be much less populated than normal, and as a result some of our auxiliary services areas (those that rely on sales and receipts for their funding) may be negatively affected. We don’t yet know what the full cost of these impacts will be, but each of these areas — such as University Housing, Dining and Transportation — has been preparing for these changes since March and will make budget adjustments as needed.

Some units have been able to adapt in-person services to alternative online services. Most are also working with suppliers and contractors to renegotiate purchasing agreements. Unfortunately, because higher education is a personnel-intensive endeavor, any significant reductions in auxiliary services units will result in reductions to personnel. Several units are already limiting the number of service positions typically rehired for a fall startup.

Over the next few weeks we expect to have a clearer budget picture. College and unit budget officers will receive regular updates, and we will share any significant changes with the larger campus community. We remain confident that NC State will continue to provide instruction, research and extension services at high levels and will be able to make any necessary adjustments the pandemic might warrant.

Our priorities remain doing all we can to protect the safety and health of the NC State community while ensuring this university continues to achieve its mission for the benefit of our students, our state and the world. Thank you for your hard work, your passion and your commitment to NC State.

Warwick Arden, Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor
Charles Maimone, Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration

 

Appalachian State University Chancellor Sheri Everts also addressed the budget scenarios in a message to the university’s community.

From that message:

 

“As we receive new information and guidance from the UNC System, state and local public health, the state legislature and other key oversight agencies, we work to determine what it means for our campus and share with the Appalachian Community as quickly as possible any new guidance and information, as well as any steps we take in response.

As I mentioned in my message to campus on July 18, the UNC Board of Governors has asked all UNC System institutions to conduct financial scenario planning exercises. This afternoon, the UNC System released scenario planning documents for all campuses. While we are not facing 25%–50% budget cuts at this time, I want to emphasize it is important to responsible fiscal planning that we engage in budget scenario planning.

Decisions made by the Board of Governors have a direct impact on our university, and Appalachian’s leaders work diligently to ensure our priorities are heard and considered. My positions on the budget and finance and capital construction committees give me insight and a voice in these important areas. The recent Board of Governors meeting resulted in decisions that are important to our university: A motion was approved for the 2020–21 Operating Budget Allocations, which included $5 million for Appalachian for enrollment change funding. Vice Chancellor for Business Affairs Paul Forte and Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs J.J. Brown presented to the strategic initiatives committee about Appalachian’s approach to student health services, particularly our decision to begin billing our students’ insurance companies to gain additional revenue we can re-invest in further resources for students, such as telehealth options.”

 

Read the full report here.

Policy Watch will continue to cover this ongoing story over the weekend and in the coming week.

Commentary, COVID-19, Education, News

The week’s top stories on Policy Watch

1. Along now-defunct Atlantic Coast Pipeline route, landowners are left in the lurch

Environmental destruction, property entanglements will take years to address

Behind a black wooden farm gate, near Wade in Cumberland County, used to lie a meadow. Serene, tree-lined, it was a spot of utopia where Donovan McLaurin had planned to build a small house for himself.

Instead, the land has been defaced. Hills of dirt two stories tall are splayed to reveal a rugged gash in the earth. This is part of 11 acres that Atlantic Coast Pipeline, LLC, seized from McLaurin to build its ill-fated natural gas project.

McLaurin, who is 73, was among the holdouts. He never agreed to allow the utilities — Duke Energy and Dominion Energy — to cross his property. He wouldn’t accept their offer of $36,000 that was supposed to compensate him for land that has been in his family for five generations. When they doubled the price, he turned them down again.[Read more...]

2. Special report: The national crisis in unemployment insurance

Balky technology, expiring benefits worry workers, state leaders.

Congress is still squabbling over whether to extend a federal supplement of $600 a week to unemployment insurance and if so, by how much. Meanwhile, out-of-work Americans  worry whether they can survive on state benefits that often are a small part of their normal pay — pay that for many was inadequate in the first place.

Old technology has already forced millions to wait on badly needed unemployment checks. Now state officials who run unemployment systems are concerned about how to adjust to changes or delays, while keeping the money flowing through their overwhelmed infrastructure. [Read more…]

3. Unprecedented crisis demands strong medicine from the federal government

It’s been more than six months now since the novel coronavirus produced its first diagnosed infection in the United States and to say that the nation has botched its response to the crisis would be a massive understatement.

Rather than tackling the virus head-on by implementing a comprehensive national shutdown and marshaling a massive and immediate federal economic intervention capable of sustaining the nation while a huge share of the workforce stayed home, the U.S. dilly-dallied. [Read more…]

4. Reopening public schools: A look inside one district’s decision-making process

On July 16, the Onslow County Board of Education weighed one of the biggest decisions it had ever faced.

Should it bring nearly 27,000 students back to 39 school buildings for in-person instruction in the middle of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic that’s killed more than 1,800 people in North Carolina? Or should it exercise an abundance of caution and offer students remote learning only?

“Going into that meeting, we had a couple of board members who were not sure what they wanted to do,” said Pam Thomas, chairwoman of the OCS school board. [Read more…]

5. UNC not releasing ‘worst case scenario’ budget proposals

A week after UNC System leaders required chancellors at the 17 campuses to submit plans for budget cuts of up to 50%, the system is still not publicly releasing those plans.

The system’s lawyers are still vetting the documents, according to Josh Ellis, associate vice president for media relations. The system hopes to  make them available in the near future, he said, but cannot give a timeline for their release.

It’s an answer that frustrates parents, students and faculty concerned about the future of the university system as students begin returning to campus next week, as well as open government advocates who say people should be given access to public documents as quickly as possible.

Policy Watch first reported UNC Board of Governors Chairman Randy Ramsey’s email directive to the chancellors earlier this month.[Read more…]

6. As COVID numbers show signs of stabilizing, North Carolina rolls out statewide curfew on alcohol sales

Health and Human Service Secretary Mandy Cohen offered a glimmer of good news on Tuesday:

Key metrics used to measure North Carolina’s trajectory of COVID-19 cases are showing signs of leveling.

“These early signs are a testament to hard work folks have been doing across the state. They show what is possible when we all work together,” said Cohen.

With the state performing an average of 29,000 tests a day, roughly eight percent of the cases have been positive over the last 14 days. Today there were 1,749 new cases of the virus.

The number of hospitalizations is up, but the state still has capacity.

And as for those masks that we’re growing accustomed to wearing? [Read more…]

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