Education

UNC faculty members push for online classes as COVID cases rise across NC

Posted December 2, 2020 9:02 a.m. EST
Updated December 2, 2020 4:55 p.m. EST

— University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill faculty members are asking for the school to return to remote instruction in the spring as coronavirus cases climb across North Carolina.

A surge in testing ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday came along with a sharp increase in the number of positive tests. On Saturday, the rate of positive tests in North Carolina was 9.5%, the highest it's been since the middle of July. The seven-day, rolling average is 7.84% of tests returned positive, well above the 5% target set by the state.

In an open letter written by faculty published by The Daily Tar Heel, staff said that cases on college campuses nationwide are "rising dramatically."

Chapel Hill's coronavirus dashboard shows a spike in coronavirus cases in August, but far fewer cases in November. Orange County also reported a similar spike in cases in August, when students returned to campus, then a sharp decline as September began.

Cases in the county have been slowly inching upward since around the beginning of October, according to WRAL's Data Trackers.

Since July 1, more than 11% of all tests reported to UNC-CH have returned positive. The university plans to open three new testing sites on campus and add more quarantine and isolation spaces.

Joel Curran, a university spokesman, said plans for the spring are far from final.

"We are closely monitoring state and national case counts, and we are prepared to adjust our plans at any time and will announce changes no later than January 9 – prior to the return of our on-campus residents, if the conditions necessitate it,” he said in a statement.

Faculty note in the letter that UNC's testing plan has improved, but "testing itself is not enough to ensure a safe campus." The letter said that administration wants 20 to 30% of classes to be taught in person and increase capacity in on-campus dorms.

"Given the current conditions and UNC's track record, the plans for spring are doomed to repeat too many of the failures of the fall," the letter said.

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