Provost: UNC may not have new COVID omicron plan until 1 week before classes resume

Orange County News

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — University of North Carolina leaders say they might not have a firm new plan to handle the omicron variant of COVID-19 during the spring semester until a week before classes start.

Bob Blouin, UNC’s executive vice chancellor and provost, told the university’s faculty executive committee Thursday during a virtual meeting that he expects to have the plan by Jan. 3.

Classes start Jan. 10.

“Obviously, if we can get a plan that our infectious disease experts feel is well-thought-out and consistent with the science, and we can get that to everybody prior to Jan. 3, then we will do that,” Blouin said.

The committee called the meeting after state public health officials said North Carolina could see more than 10,000 new COVID-19 cases every day at the peak of a surge of the omicron variant. The previous plan for the spring semester was based on the delta variant, which appears to be less contagious than the new omicron variant is.

“We thought we were done with this, and we thought much of this uncertainty was behind us,” Blouin said. “And then omicron surfaced.”

Delaying the start of the semester is not a reasonable option, Blouin said.

“The problem with a delay is, it’s not like this virus is timed such that everyone gets it on the same day and everyone stops and recovers on the same day,” he said. “If you do put a pause or a delay … when would you restart it, and what would the criteria be to restart it?

“The sentiment of the infectious disease team this morning was that this would not offer us much advantage at all … and it would create more anxiety,” he said.

UNC has said unvaccinated students and every dorm resident will have to show proof of a negative COVID test with72 hours of returning to campus.

The meeting came a day after Duke announced plans to go remote for the first few days of class in early January. 

“Others have made some decisions in terms of what they’re going to do in the spring,” Blouin said. “We believe that we’re in a better situation if we wait a little bit longer, and wait until we have as much information and data as we possibly can to make as informed a decision as possible.”

Duke has said all students enrolled for next semester must get a booster shot once they’re eligible. Blouin said UNC does not have that power.

“We do not have the authority to mandate vaccines, nor do we have the authority to mandate boosters,” Blouin said.

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