COVID-19 booster shots to roll out starting next month

National Park Service renews mask mandate for all visitors

With classes beginning this week, UNC-Chapel Hill faculty petition to take classes online for 4-6 weeks

Over the weekend students across the UNC System began moving into on-campus dorms and off-campus apartments. But with classes set to begin Wednesday at UNC-Chapel Hill, faculty are petitioning to take classes online for 4-6 weeks as new COVID-19 clusters are already appearing on campus and Delta variant infections continue to climb.

As of Monday morning, the petition had nearly 200 signatures from faculty members from across the university’s myriad departments.

Students, faculty and staff also petitioned and urged greater caution – including a move online – last year. Administrators and the UNC Board of Governors disagreed, moving forward with reopening plans they insisted would work. Within a week the system’s largest schools – including Chapel Hill, N.C. State University and East Carolina University – were forced to make the move after mounting infections that overwhelmed their quarantine spaces and proved their precautions inadequate.

Earlier this month, six former state health directors urged UNC System President Peter Hans to follow the lead of several other large state university systems in mandating vaccination at UNC Schools. That is not a step Hans or the system’s governing board have, so far, been willing to take.

Read the new petition in full below.

New U.S. cases of COVID-19 have risen to more than 129,000 cases per day. This is “the highest average since early February.” In North Carolina, more than 2,400 people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19. Breakthrough cases are increasing. Our ICUs are full or almost full. Last fall, the number of hospitalizations from COVID-19 was used as one metric to move teaching online. Rushing back to the classroom this week puts us all at risk

As we learned from the past two semesters, online teaching, although not always optimal, can work well. Clearly, we can move to remote classes for the next 4-6 weeks until the more transmissible Delta variant surge is brought under control. 

UNC Hospital infectious disease physician Dr. David Wohl said on August 13, “We’re in trouble. We are going to have a very bumpy few weeks…. It’s only going to get worse. We are backsliding.” 

The current plan for UNC—which includes no “off-ramp” for remote learning, unlike last fall, and no vaccine mandate—is for regular classrooms with no physical distancing, near-full dorms, football games with no masks, and full to capacity dining halls. This is a formula for disaster.

We need a block of time to get this situation under control. As the Chair of the Faculty Mimi Chapman, Chair of the Employee Forum Katie Musgrove, UNC-CH Student Body President Lamar Richards, and Neel Swamy, President of the Graduate and Professional Student Government wrote in The Daily Tar Heel, “A few weeks of remote instruction would allow our campus to get more people vaccinated….” Jill Moore, Secretary of the Faculty and a professor in the School of Government who studies North Carolina communicable disease law, has said that there is no legal reason for NC universities to refrain from mandating vaccines.

A. David Paltiel, professor of Public Health at Yale, said that college leaders who do not require vaccines were guilty of a dereliction of duty: “They’re not taking care of their constituents. It really comes down to whether they have any business opening their doors.”

We understand that some staff members will need to be on campus. They must be provided with PPE in the form of N95 masks, time off to get vaccinated or tested, and hazard pay. Remote teaching will create a safer environment with fewer students, faculty, and staff on campus. 

The time to act is now. We, UNC-CH instructors, call upon Chancellor Guskiewicz and Provost Blouin to delay in-person classes until the metrics improve. This is the only moral and compassionate path. We require bold and courageous leadership. The risks are too high. 

Please add your name by clicking here.

An eleventh-hour decision to protect students from COVID

The head of Transylvania County Schools is requiring all students and staff wear masks today on the first day of the new school year for the district. Superintendent Dr. Jeff McDaris made the decision Sunday afternoon just hours before Monday’s return to the classroom.

This reverses a decision made two-weeks earlier by the County Board of Education for masks to be optional.

Dr. McDaris explained online:

Superintendent Dr. Jeff McDaris

The Transylvania County Health Department and our school nurses have notified me of multiple positive cases and potential cases of COVID-19 among faculty members and students over the last 72 hours.

The school district is currently monitoring confirmed or potential COVID-19 cases at Rosman Middle School, Pisgah Forest Elementary School, Brevard Middle, Brevard High School, and Davidson River School. In addition, the Brevard Middle School Football team is now under quarantine due to close contact with a player who tested positive for COVID-19.

This is an evolving situation that could result in staffing concerns at several schools.

As a result, as Superintendent, I am requiring that all staff and students wear face coverings inside all Transylvania County School buildings for the first day of school tomorrow, August 16, 2021.

This decision is being made to protect staff and students and to promote the availability of adequate school staff for in-person learning for all students for the beginning of school.

How long the new masking requirement lasts may be up to the Board of Education.

The board meets this evening at 6:30pm where masking at the pubic meeting will be optional.

Governor Roy Cooper has urged school districts that have made masking optional to reconsider that decision, given the sharp rise in COVID cases in recent weeks.

Forty-nine percent of Transylvania County’s eligible population has received one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Weekend humor from Celia Rivenbark: Returning to the not-so-friendly skies

When we first emerged from pandemic isolation, we looked like prehistoric cave creatures, blinking slowly as we saw light for the very first time. Except instead of light, it was a waiter approaching with a tray of water glasses. What wonderment is this? Someone I don’t even know is bringing me a beverage. Also, I’m wearing pants.

At first, we were happy as a puppy with two tails, ready to ditch our pre-vaccine seclusion the very moment the tiny Band-aid dropped off like a chrysalis signaling our new life. Finally, we were, literally, free to move about the cabin.

Everyone was the kind of nice that holds the elevator door and gives you a big smile. We’ll wait for you, the smile said. OK, maybe not. Nobody knew how much luggage you had. OMG, somebody press the door-shut button. No! That’s the door-open button. THEY LOOK JUST ALIKE SO HOW DO YOU KNOW?

We were collectively nice for about three days before the COVID vaccination goodwill tour ended abruptly. I remember the moment precisely. Walking through the airport, I watched two security officers handcuff a guy who was screaming at a gate attendant because his flight was delayed: “You’re a (expletive-ing) nobody! I want to speak to a (expletive-ing) somebody!” Niiiice.

In the air, the passenger directly behind me berated the flight attendant a few minutes after takeoff.

“There’s something wrong with the engine,” he said in an outdoor voice. “That noise isn’t right. I’ve flown before, you know.”
Calmly, she told him the whining buzzy noise a few minutes after takeoff was normal for the Airbus and assured him all was well.

“NO, IT’S NOT!! THE ENGINE IS MESSED UP! DON’T TELL ME IT’S NOT!”

Heads popped up from Sudoku puzzles and tablets. What the what? Because I was seated so close to Panic Boy, I mimicked the flight attendant’s calm smile to my fellow passengers and added an exaggerated rotating index finger at my temple. You’re welcome. The flight attendant looked toward me with what I hope was gratitude, but although a moment of solidarity passed between us, it did NOT translate into extra Biscoff cookies. Did I not defuse a potential panic by making the universally accepted symbol for “crazy”? Hmmph.

I believe this absolutely true story illustrates I’m a giver but I’m not so sure about the rest of y’all. The FAA reports “air rage” is up from an average of about 150 cases a year to more than 3,400 just since January. If my math is correct, and it almost never is, that’s “a lot” percent more.

Most of the incidents stem from passengers who refuse to wear a mask on board and then things “take off” from there. I admire the restraint of flight attendants who don’t simply say: Suck it up, buttercup. And for the millionth time I realize I would make a horrible flight attendant, rolling my eyes while demonstrating how to use a seat belt and saying how valuable each passenger is to them.

If you think it sounds a bit like the Wild West up in the sky right now, you’re not wrong. Who can forget the unruly passenger who had to be duct-taped into her seat, including a swath of the sticky stuff over her mouth?

Or the Alaska Airlines passenger who urinated beside his seat saying simply “I have to pee” when confronted. In another flight, a woman hit a passenger HOLDING A BABY in a dispute over the window shade.

I’m torn on this one because I hate it when window seat people keep the shade down.

“Ladies and gentlemen, from the cockpit, if you’ll take a look out your window, you will see the Grand Canyon AND BEYONCE unless some selfish porkface has pulled down the shade…”

Celia Rivenbark is a NYT-bestselling author and columnist. Write her at [email protected].