Education

UNC identifies COVID cluster in residence hall, the second cluster this month

Posted August 21, 2021 12:00 p.m. EDT
Updated August 21, 2021 7:34 p.m. EDT

— Less than a week into the start of classes, a handful of students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill are in isolation after officials sent an alert Saturday morning saying they had identified a cluster of COVID-19 in a dorm.

At least five students in the Avery Residence Hall have tested positive for COVID-19. This is the second confirmed COVID-19 cluster connected to UNC so far this semester. University officials said in an effort to respect students' privacy, they would not be sharing any additional details about the cluster.

The students affected by this cluster were isolated and received medical monitoring. The university also also notified the Orange County Health Department and said they were working with them to identify additional exposures.

Students tell WRAL News they're concerned that classes could move back to being online. Farouk Charkas, a freshman at UNC, said he's "praying to God" that the school won't continue to experience anymore clusters.

Earlier this month, officials announced another cluster of cases connected to an event at the school of pharmacy. The event was outdoors, but still linked to at least six students testing positive for COVID-19. Duke and UNC have already seen vaccinated students test positive for COVID this semester.

Hearing about new COVID-19 cases just days into a new semester is not how first-year college student Emerson Elgin wanted to start her first year at UNC. She lives in the residence hall where UNC officials say there are at least five active cases.

"The first thing that goes through my mind is, ‘Where is it in the dorm? Is there a chance I was infected?’" she said.

The alert comes days after photos on social media showed students lined up to drink out of the Old Well, sparking concern that the tradition could lead to community spread.

The chancellor defended the tradition, saying, "I know there have been some concerns about certain activities, such as the first sip at the Old Well, Sunset Serenade and athletic events. Let me be clear: we are consulting with our experts and health officials, as well as following state and local guidelines, as we make these decisions."

University officials announced earlier this month that unvaccinated students will be tested twice weekly. The initial requirement was once a week.

Nearly 90% of students and more than 80% of staff attest to being vaccinated against the coronavirus.

In addition to vaccinations and testing, the university is requiring everyone to wear masks indoors on campus.

"I would just be safe around who you see" Elgin said. "Make your groups smaller. I know it’s college, and you want to meet everyone, but make sure it’s outdoors and limit what you do."

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