UNC students offer mixed feelings as letter recommends online-only courses for school year

Orange County News

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WNCN)– The Orange County Health Department sent a letter to UNC-Chapel Hill with recommendations to start the fall semester with online-only instruction and restricted housing.

“I do trust the OCHD to really know what they’re talking about and that they want to just be keeping everyone safe,” said Jeanie Chung, a senior at UNC Chapel Hill.

The release from the health department stated that by restricting on-campus housing, students that had to return to campus could do so in a single occupancy room. This would allow for additional capacity for isolation and quarantine measures as needed.

The recommendation for starting the year with online-only instruction for the first five weeks is to help ensure the community’s ability to respond to new cases, the release said.

“I just feel like it’s so hard to learn online,” said Bella Cankurtaran, a freshman at UNC-Chapel Hill. “Especially when you have classes like math and chemistry labs, that’s just such a difficult topic to grasp.”

Earlier in the pandemic, the health department said the case numbers were driven by the older age group, most of whom lived in long-term care facilities in the community. To date, Orange County has started to see more cases with the younger age group and more community transmission/asymptomatic cases than originally seen.

The health department said if the first five weeks of instruction are virtual, it could help reduce further spread of the virus by eliminating in-class instruction.

The letter from the OCHD was dated July 29, but faculty and students only learned of it a week later. UNC’s Executive Faculty called an emergency meeting with the chancellor and provost on Wednesday.

“There’s just a sense of the university’s not being forthcoming or as quick to release important information and I feel like the letter just fits in that category,” said Hannah Olmstead, senior at UNC-Chapel Hill. “Like, that would have been nice to know before we all moved back in.”

UNC Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz released a statement on Wednesday.

It reads in part, “…While the OCHD letter was not an order or a mandate for the University to take any specific action, as always, I took their recommendations very seriously and convened a meeting Thursday morning of our infectious disease and public health experts, as well as senior leaders on our Roadmap Implementation Team, just hours after receiving the letter. We reviewed their recommendations, and carefully analyzed our current status and the steps we were actively taking to de-densify our campus. We believe we have made significant progress towards aligning with the OCHD’s general recommendations and considerations.”

Guskiewicz added that the university has increased the number of courses with hybrid online and in-person learning options, reducing capacity in dorms to 64 percent, and have worked with UNC Health Care to increase testing capacity.

The health department said to date, Orange County has confirmed 1,241 positive COVID-19 cases and 45 deaths attributed to the virus.

Over the past month, the health department said the county has reported an increase in cases for those in the 18-24 age group (22 percent) and the 24-29 age group (37 percent).

As the state entered Phase Two of reopening, the health department said Orange County had an increase of COVID-19 cases.

The health department said with students already returning to campus ahead of the fall semester, the county has reported positive COVID-19 clusters among UNC staff and athletic teams.

Parents CBS17 spoke to on campus weren’t aware of the letter or recommendations from the OCHD.

“But our opinion as parents is, we’re not gonna not have her not live her life,” said Cooke Hopeful, whose daughter is a freshman. “She’s gonna be as careful as possible and we’re gonna trust that the school is gonna do the right thing for these kids.”

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