Coronavirus Shortens UNC Chapel Hill School Year By 51 Weeks Or So
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill made it a whole week between the start of on-campus classes on August 10 and the announcement yesterday that it would switch to online-only instruction following — you guessed it! — an outbreak of coronavirus. Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz and Provost Bob Blouin said 177 students have tested positive for COVID-19 and are in isolation, and 349 more are being quarantined because they were exposed to people known to have tested positive. The administrators also said, "So far, we have been fortunate that most students who have tested positive have demonstrated mild symptoms."
The Raleigh News & Observer reports "UNC data showed 13.6% of the 954 students tested last week were positive — nearly twice the percentage testing positive on average in the previous three weeks." There were four major clusters — an outbreak of 5 or more cases in a single location — identified: two in dorms, one in a university-owned apartment complex, and one at a fraternity. That made for a very accurate headline in yesterday's print edition of the student newspaper, the Daily Tar Heel:
The online edition had a more polite headline, but included the subhed "clusterfuck (n): a complex and utterly disordered and mismanaged situation."
University leaders had a very thorough plan for public health, with a mix of in-person classes and online options, social distancing, and mandatory mask rules on campus, and Blouin had written Thursday that it was "heartening" to see such terrific compliance among students and faculty, except oopsies, nobody really gave a lot of thought to the fact that college students, when brought back to campus, are likely to behave like college students. The outbreaks appear to have mostly resulted from people partying off campus, not wearing masks, and drinking, because that's what you go to college for, duh.
These three paragraphs from the News & Observer don't really offer a heck of a lot of reassurance, except maybe for campuses whose student bodies are entirely made up of nerds who started out socially isolated:
Several infectious-disease experts and epidemiologists at the meeting said contact tracing so far has not found any infections transmitted in educational spaces, such as classrooms or labs, or between students and instructors.
"What we have found is that most of the transmissions have been within the social sphere of campus life, and that has been really challenging for us to manage and to hold people to the level of accountability that we probably needed to," Blouin said.
"So I guess in terms of lessons learned, certainly, that was a big lesson learned," he said.
So clearly, that single week of instruction was very educational!
Barbara K. Rimer, the dean of UNC's Gillings School of Global Public Health, wrote that university leadership had prepared a solid plan for reopening the university, but that successful reopening was premised on flattening the curve nationally, which hadn't happened. She also pointed out that UNC's chancellor and provost hadn't "had full freedom to act since the [Board of Governors] told system universities they had to reopen and that individual university chancellors could not make those decisions independently." So there's a thing other institutions may want to give some thought to. She concluded,
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.
In the meantime, Donald Trump and other Republicans continue to insist schools at all levels should reopen, because young people are very resilient and live forever — something you should never say to college students, especially the boys, since they already think that.
Best of luck, everyone. May the odds be ever in your favor.
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