UNC Public Health school dean calls for remote-only learning after 4th COVID-19 cluster

COVID-19 and schools

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WNCN) — “We have tried to make this work, but it is not working.”

Those were the final words from Barbara Rimer, dean of UNC-Chapel Hill’s Gillings School of Global Public Health, in her Monday Morning blog which focused on the decision to reopen the university to students.

After only one week of campus operations, with growing numbers of clusters and insufficient control over the off-campus behavior of students (and others), Rimer says it is time for an “off-ramp,” which she says means a move to remote-only learning.

UNC-Chapel Hill has experienced four COVID-19 clusters since Friday.

The latest cluster is at a university dormitory.

In the blog, Rimer admits many were optimistic about flattening the virus curve amid a return to campus and be in a “far better place,” yet going on to say that the curve has not been flattened and the virus is “widespread in communities.”

“A lot of thought went into both the central and unit plans, and the views of campus infectious disease experts were sought regularly. Whatever our individual opinions about the riskiness of the enterprise on which we were embarked, we were determined to make it work. None of us believed there was a perfect model; each option had pluses and minuses, risks, and potential mitigating factors,” Rimer wrote.

Rimer says the chancellor and provost tried to make decisions from foundations of evidence and science, with advice from some of the world’s best infectious disease experts.

According to the blog, the Board of Governors — the UNC System’s governing body — issued directives to reopen and that individual university chancellors could not make those decisions independently, handicapping UNC’s freedom to act on what they believed would work. 

“As a dean, I would prefer that decisions be made by chancellors and provosts, with their unique understanding of and accountability to the campus communities they lead, for all are different,” Rimer said.

UNC’s plan for reopening indicates that if certain conditions prevail, it might be necessary to make a move to remote operations for teaching and learning. The move would most likely result in reductions in students living in dorms, where the majority of the school’s COVID-19 clusters have been detected.

Read the full blog post here.

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