UNC Dean of School of Public Health on return to campus: “Time to take the off-ramp”

Dr. Barbara K. Rimer, dean of UNC’s Gillings School of Global Public Health, has called for the UNC-Chapel Hill campus to move online as clusters COVID-19 infections proliferate at the school after just a week of classes.

Dr. Barbara Rimer


Rimer joins a chorus of voices that include faculty and student leaders, the Orange County Health Department and Dr. Ribisl, chair of UNC’s Department of Health Behavior.

In an online article, Rimer wrote Monday about the run-up to returning to campus and the campus is now:

“Carolina Together, the plan for how the university would return to on-campus operations, indicates that if certain conditions prevail, it might be necessary to take an off-ramp and return to remote operations for teaching and learning. Most likely, that also would result in reductions in students living in dorms. The rationale for taking an off-ramp now is that the number of clusters is growing and soon could become out of control, threatening the health of others on campus and in the community and putting scarce resources at risk. While it appeared that students on campus were compliant with distancing and mask use, reports of off-campus behavior showed a different pattern—drinking, no masks or distancing, and crowds. I do not have first-hand observations; this generalization reflects what has been reported and reflected in increases in numbers of cases, reflecting mostly dorm and fraternity-based clusters.

After only one week of campus operations, with growing numbers of clusters and insufficient control over the off-campus behavior of students (and others), it is time for an off-ramp. We have tried to make this work, but it is not working.”

Rimer also addressed the politicization of the pandemic and tension between academia and the UNC Board of Governors, the conservative-dominated board of political appointees who, with UNC System President Peter Hans, have the ultimate authority to close campuses because of infections:

“It is sad and unfortunate that decisions about reopening in America have been politicized, and that, too often, choices are not made on the foundation of evidence and science. Our chancellor and provost tried to make decisions from those foundations, with advice from some of the world’s best infectious disease experts. However, they have not had full freedom to act since the BOG told system universities they had to reopen and that individual university chancellors could not make those decisions independently. It is understandable that the lens of the BOG and system president would be different from what each university’s chancellor would bring to the picture. As a dean, I would prefer that decisions be made by chancellors and provosts, with their unique understanding of and accountability to the campus communities they lead, for all are different.”

On Monday afternoon, UNC-Chapel Hill made its weekly update to the school’s COVID-19 dashboard.

There were 135 new positive tests — 130 among students and 5 among employees.

The school’s positive test rate jumped to 13.6% and its quarantine room capacity fell to 5.5%.

Read Rimer’s entire piece here.

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