Despite COVID-19, UNC fans pack Franklin Street after win over Duke; chancellor vows investigation

Orange County News

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WNCN) — Despite warnings from university officials, UNC Chapel Hill students stormed Franklin Street after a win over Duke University Saturday night.

Although neither team was ranked Saturday, a Tar Heel win over the Blue Devils is typically celebrated with a gathering on Franklin Street.

Amid COVID-19, UNC officials warned in advance that students should not gather in the event of a win.

However, just minutes after the 91-87 win over Duke, Franklin Street was full of UNC fans — and a bonfire could even be seen. Some people were wearing face masks, but little social distancing was seen.

“UNC fans don’t care about the health and safety of the community. There’s no masks over there no masks,” said one spectator.

Traffic was blocked by the large crowd at Columbia Street and a mattress was seen passed over the heads of the crowd. The mattress was later torn to pieces and bits of it were found throughout the street.

“It was electric — we actually had people out here for the first time,” said one UNC student near the scene. 

“Man let us have our fun. A little bit of fun during corona,” said another UNC student. 

The city said they weren’t anticipating a crowd.

Chapel Hill police spokesman Ran Northam said that traffic was shut down by officers as a precaution after the swarm began.

Northam said that around 8:50 p.m. officers warned the crowd to disperse. By about 9 p.m. the crowds were clear and the road reopened around 9:05 p.m.

One person was seen being taken away in handcuffs, but Northam said no one was cited for COVID-19 violations or any other matters, including the bonfire.

“It was short-lived, thankfully,” Northam said of the blaze. Crews were still cleaning up the scene — mostly the innards of the mattress — at 10 p.m.

With 600 new COVID-19 cases reported at the school since January, some worry what lasting consequences the celebration will bring.

“I would like to see how the cases go up after this maybe and if this was a catalyst or something like that,” said a UNC student, who only provided her first name – Olivia.

The UNC chancellor released a statement around 9:30 p.m. promising an investigation.

“I know many Tar Heels enjoy rushing Franklin Street to celebrate a big win, but we are in the middle of a global pandemic, and COVID doesn’t take a break for the Duke game. We will investigate this incident and work with local authorities to pursue consequences,” UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz said in a news release.

Before the rivalry game, both UNC and Duke asked students to host a virtual watch party or cheer the teams on through social media as opposed to attending large celebrations. 

The safety reminder came as UNC announced nearly 200 COVID-19 violations over the past three months, resulting in 88 reprimands and nine students being removed from Carolina Housing. 

Photo by Tom Swift/CBS 17
The scene on Franklin Street Saturday night after the win over Duke. Photo by Emani Payne/CBS 17

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