Dorm and frat outbreaks at UNC Chapel Hill bring in-person instruction to question

Update: UNC Chapel Hill has announced that their classes will all go virtual starting this Wednesday. I wonder if it will take a week and a half for the other schools that opened in person. (Thanks Karen for the tip!)

Many parents dropped their children off at college this weekend. I’m thinking of you and I can’t imagine how hard that must be at this time. UNC Chapel Hill has been one of the first colleges in the US to open in-person instruction this year, with classes starting last Monday, August 10th. So far there have been three different outbreaks that we’ve heard about, all in under a week. There have been outbreaks in two dorms and a fraternity.

Unsurprisingly, faculty are now calling for them to go to an online-only model. North Carolina Policy Watch has details from an internal memo that the faculty chair sent to their board, asking that the chancellor be allowed to end in-person classes. It sounds like they have so much bureaucracy, which is typical for higher education.

Dr. Mimi Chapman, chair of the UNC-Chapel Hill faculty, has appealed to the UNC Board of Governors to allow the school’s chancellor to choose whether to end in-person instruction and on-campus for the fall semester.

On-campus sources with direct knowledge of the numbers told Policy Watch Saturday the three clusters represent dozens of infections, with contact tracing seeking to determine wider exposure.

“In the last two days, within the first week of classes, already three clusters of students that are positive for the virus have been identified,” Chapman wrote in her letter. “Two in dormitories and now one at a fraternity house. These are likely the tip of the iceberg and we will see more in coming days.”

“We knew there would be positive cases on our campus,” Chapman wrote. “But clusters, five or more people that are connected in one place, are a different story. The presence of clusters should be triggering reconsideration of residential, in-person learning. However, moving to remote instruction cannot be done without your approval.”

As Policy Watch was first to report last month, UNC Board of Governors Chairman Randy Ramsey told chancellors at the 17 UNC System campuses they would not have the authority to make final decisions about ending on-campus instruction and residential living due to infections. Those decisions will be made by the board and UNC System President Peter Hans, Ramsey said.

[From NC Policy Watch]

There’s going to be a special meeting of the “Faculty Executive Committee” at UNC Chapel Hill today to discuss the covid cases. I doubt they have the power to make the decisions judging from this letter, but maybe they can put pressure on the Board of Governors. What’s more is that UNC staff and professor unions are calling for county health directors to order all the local UNC colleges to close, probably because they realize that people who run UNC are hell bent on continuing this health experiment. Plus the workers union is suing for unsafe working conditions!

I’m so glad I don’t work in a public school or university. I have a low tolerance for this type of red tape and all of these layers of decision-making are going to cost lives. Schools are definitely losing revenue by going online-only this fall, but it’s a necessity. So many schools have changed plans to either cancel or delay in-person instruction. The Chronicle of Higher education has a breakdown of over 3,000 universities’ plans for the fall that they update frequently. A full 20% are planning primarily in-person instruction, 15% have a hybrid model and 25% are still undecided. Hopefully those numbers will change now that we’ve seen what’s happening at just one university after one week. Surely there are countless more cases.

Three students have been kicked out of UNC campus housing for “failing to follow standards” for covid distancing. Oh and cops were called to at least SEVEN different loud parties last weekend in Chapel Hill.

These are photos from UNC’s official Instagram account. You can tell they’re really trying to enforce social distancing and make things safe for everyone.

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29 Responses to “Dorm and frat outbreaks at UNC Chapel Hill bring in-person instruction to question”

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  1. WingKingdom says:

    I live in Chapel Hill. I drove down Franklin Street the other day and there were huge groups of college students, like groups of 20, all over the place without masks or distancing. I work at another university and we’re going back in person on Wednesday.

    The brain isn’t fully developed until around age 25. You really can’t expect students ages 18-22 to be careful. That’s why going back in person was and is a poor decision by leadership.

    • Noodle says:

      @wingkingdom, how much of the decision to have in person classes is a political decision by university administration? I am intimately familiar with higher ed on the west coast and we don’t have as much of a “they MUST be in class, in person” culture among our admin.

    • Mich says:

      I also live in Chapel Hill and am just furious about what is unfolding. I’m avoiding town like the plague.

      @Noodle – I have it on good authority that it was the Republicans in our state legislature who forced UNC to bring all the students back…or lose all their funding.

      • Shelly says:

        I went to UNC and live nearby, and I’m not surprised by the Republican NC state legislature’s bone headed decisions, nor the fact that college students struggle with following social distancing rules. I don’t think I was particularly smart at that age either, and was definitely far more selfish than I am now. It’s just a bad situation all around….stay safe in Chapel Hill!

    • pk says:

      I don’t know. Age 18-22 is old enough to vote, drive, work, etc. I think people at that age know full well we are in a pandemic and know full well that they need to social distance and wear masks. They are being selfish. I have seen plenty of older adults, in their 50’s not social distancing or wearing masks. It seems to be a personality trait or something. These are not kindergarten kids we are talking about…even some of them know better.

  2. Naomi says:

    Universities around the country are going to wrongly blame students for making bad decisions, but let’s be clear: the fault for any and all Covid outbreaks on campus is ENTIRELY the fault of the Board of Trustees, the Univ. President, Provosts & administrators who are calling the shots, forcing faculty & students to be on campus. This the same strategy we’ve seen by some state governors who insist that the bars, beaches, restaurants stay open but leave it to “individual responsibility.” SHUT IT DOWN, IT’S A PUBLIC HEALTH CRISIS! For shame on UNC’S Board & president for putting all these people at risk, including local residents who don’t even have any direct tie to the university!

    • Emily says:

      Yes, I just can’t work up outrage over college students partying together. Of course they are. The schools knew they would be, too.

  3. huncamunca says:

    This is exactly what I’ve been afraid of happening. I work for a university (staff in the library), and I’m on month 5 of working from home. Some of the other departments that work directly with the community are heading back today, but we’re probably going to be working from home for the entire semester. On the one hand, I’m absolutely going stir crazy in my apartment. But I’m glad that I’m not thrown back into such a busy building. There are policies in place about enforcing masks and social distancing, but our dean came out and said that there won’t be anyone to actually and meaningfully enforce the rules.

    • Noodle says:

      My university has told everyone they will work from home until January, at the earliest, then they will gauge the risk at that point. I’m FT teaching faculty so I’m mostly at home anyways save a few committee meetings (which could totally be done from home even in non-COVID times).

  4. FHMom says:

    I dropped my freshman off over the weekend. I am a nervous wreck. The lockdown has been awful for her. Her mental health suffered greatly. Now I’m nervous for her physical health. I wish they only allowed freshman on campus this first semester. I am hoping for the best. I don’t know what else to do.

    • JanetDR says:

      I am so sorry for you and all the families dealing with these heartbreaking decisions. It is hard enough letting go in ordinary times.

  5. Case says:

    I see these headlines and I’m continuously just like…duh. Of course this will happen. If colleges are open, parties will happen. Large gatherings will happen. There won’t be proper social distancing or mask-wearing, and people will get sick.

    When the government allows places of business, schools, offices, etc. to open, this WILL happen. Yes, there’s a certain degree of personal responsibility I wish people would take, but at the end of the day, it is those in power who should be held responsible for this nonsense. Because they’re allowing it to happen across the country when we haven’t earned the “reopening” narrative yet whatsoever.

    • Esmom says:

      I have kids at two different universities, both large ones like UNC, and while I agree I have also seen that they are getting TONS of pressure from the MAGA parents who have been shrieking since spring about how we can’t live in fear and how college students are at low risk for death (never mind the faculty and staff, these people don’t care).

      One of mine went back, honestly nothing would have stopped him. And his living situation, an apartment with 3 other people versus a frat house or dorm, makes me feel like he has a decent chance of staying pretty safe.

      The other one, who planned to live in a dorm, after weeks of tossing and turning, decided to study from home for fall and maybe even spring since he was released from his housing contract. He figured that with all his classes online, his clubs cancelled, football (he’s a fan) cancelled and his favorite places to eat and study offering reduced hours and limited capacity, he would be pretty isolated there. He also knows that a hug chunk of students will not be following protocols. They already had to shut down a popular bar in the summer after students not distancing or wearing masks sparked an outbreak. It’s not easy to stop students from congregating and making bad decisions.

      But I do agree that we haven’t earned the “re-opening” narrative, at universities and elsewhere. It’s been rushed all along.

  6. K.T. says:

    It’s like the leaders want the States to be a petri dish for more Covid spread. And to lurch towards a lazy herd immunity. All without caring at the possibility of virus mutation or what long covid does to a significant part of the population, let alone the upcoming deaths! *sob*

  7. Beth says:

    I live in NC and have two nephew at different UNC universities. The UNC system has said upfront they will not reimburse families if they have to move kids off campus and go to to remote learning only. This system doesn’t care about the health of the students because it’s all about the all mighty dollar. I don’t put the blame on teachers/professors, parents or students. Of course we all want our kids back to in person learning but at what cost.

    • FHMom says:

      Money is the sole reason universities are opening. They can’t afford not to open. I’ve read every article I can about this since my oldest is a freshman. Only a few universities are offering a small decrease in costs if student chooses remote learning from home. Most are offering nothing.Considering how many parents and students have lost jobs, it’s disgraceful. I have a few friends who were considering deferring their student‘s enrollment this year, but they were told their child would have to reapply and then compete with the class of 2021 for next year.

  8. Veronica says:

    College age is the new teenager. They’re kids. You can’t expect them to behave like adults when the adults aren’t even being responsible, unfortunately. It’s going to take somebody dying on campus before anybody takes it seriously is my guess. It’ll be real interesting to see what lawsuits result from this down the line.

  9. MaryContrary says:

    My son is starting his second year of college. His first quarter classes are online, and he’s going to be living at home. I feel so bad for him-the whole thing sucks to not be able to have the “normal” college experience, but there was no way I was going to pay for him to live on campus, plus the bigger, scarier issue of taking a chance on getting the virus/bringing it home to us on a weekend when he’d come home to do laundry and get a home cooked meal. Maybe next spring? But I’m not feeling hopeful right now.

  10. Ferdinand says:

    I work for a university in Mexico. I’m afraid as the next person to go back to classes and having 40 plus students in a classroom with poor ventilation and AC on all day.
    Here at least for now, it’s been decided to start the semestres online and probably the next one will be online as well. However, we will have a two day Introductory class for freshmen to show them how things work, who their teachers will be, and so on. So I feel sorry for those countries or schools who decided it’d be a good idea to have in person classes.

    I read the article and yet, it surprises me how of classes started just Monday there are so many cases by now. I’m sure students came back sick or asymptomatic and spread the virus around. They should’ve taken actions to test students before coming back.

  11. Scal says:

    A lot of universities are also forcing staff, faculty, and students to sign a covid waiver absolving them of liability if they get sick. And then demanding they come back to campus or to bad so sad you lose your job/spot/funding.

  12. Nicki says:

    My daughter is a student at UNC currently waiting for the results of her test. Luckily so far she only has cold like symptoms. There are way more than 4 clusters at UNC. They are not getting reported if they don’t test at Campus Health or live off campus.
    Having all these students move back was a bad idea. There have been parties, the students visit each other in their housing and rush is still going on just in their private appartments. Especially after being cooped up at home, they were eager to get out and meet people again. None of them is making smart decisions.

  13. beff says:

    Daily Tarheel student newspaper headline this morning: UNC has a clusterfuck on its hands.

  14. Lunasf17 says:

    What did they expect would happen?! Seriously though, of course this is gonna happen. Dorms and frats are perfect places for Corona to thrive. I know schools are going to miss out on tons of money with online only but we don’t really have a choice. And taking classes online through a community college is way cheaper than a state school anyways so students should do that and save money and not have to take out huge amounts of student loans. I know they want to college experience and the school wants that dorm money but If the silver lining is less student loan debt to take on then that’s a positive.

    • MaryContrary says:

      You can only take community college for the first few years. In order to get a Bachelors degree you need to complete the rest at a 4 year university.

  15. Laurel says:

    If UNC goes virtual, the “student/athletes” have to go home too. Whoops, no football. If you think that’s crazy, you’re right. After all if they stay and everyone else goes home, that exposes that these young men are unpaid employees of UNC. No one will come out and say it, but that’s one of the main reasons the legislature insists on open state schools. That and that everyone knows young people hardly get corona virus and are sick for 2 days.😬

  16. paranormalgirl says:

    My girlspawn goes back on August 24 and the boyspawn August 30. She’s in an apartment with the same girl who quarantined with us and they have their own rooms. They can attend some classes virtually and only have to attend a few in person. My son is also in an apartment with his friend, who quarantined with us as well. And he has an independent project to do, so he’s mostly virtual with his professors. So they are going back.

  17. Nicki says:

    UNC just announced that they are switching to all online for undergrad and looking into options how to de-densify the dorms. They had 135 new cases in a week, the positive test rate went from 2.8% to 13.6%. And those are only the number reported by university affiliated test sites, plenty of students got tested outside of the UNC system.