RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — The wild celebration in Chapel Hill after North Carolina’s basketball victory over Duke has not yet led to an increase in COVID-19 cases on campus, according to medical experts and a CBS17.com data analysis.
Saturday marks two weeks since hundreds of mostly maskless students and fans poured onto Franklin Street to celebrate the Tar Heels’ win in a scene that drew widespread condemnation on social media, sparked an investigation of more than 300 students for violating the state’s rules against mass gatherings and touched off concerns about a potential super-spreader event.
That’s usually enough time for a single event to at least begin to show up in the data.
But — to this point, anyway — UNC appears to have avoided the worst-case scenario.
“So far we haven’t actually seen a whole lot of an uptick of cases,” said Dr. Rachel Graham, an epidemiologist at UNC’s Gillings School.
Since Feb. 7, the day after the game and subsequent party, UNC reported a total of 69 new COVID-19 cases — 37 students, 32 employees — on its dashboard. On no single day were there more than eight new cases among students, or seven among employees.
At the county level, Orange County has shown 331 new cases over the past 14 days for every 100,000 residents — significantly fewer than the statewide figure of 470 new cases per capita, according to state Department of Health and Human Services data.
Graham cautioned that it’s possible those numbers could rise still, and it could take longer before the numbers reflect any secondary spread.
But at this point, it looks like UNC dodged a bullet.
“We might have expected to see a few more cases than we’re currently seeing, but it may be on Monday we’d see more cases than we’re seeing right now, it may be a week from now that we’re seeing more secondary cases than we’re seeing right now,” Graham said. “Or it may be that the actual the isolation procedures that have been put in place by the university have actually been effective (and) have been able to control spread.”
The school is testing students who live on campus twice a week and those off campus once a week, isolating those who are positive and quarantining their close contacts through tracing.
UNC’s dashboard shows from Feb. 7 through Thursday, the school processed 21,563 tests of students and employees and a total of 40 were found to be positive — a positivity rate of 0.2 percent. That rate was 0.1 percent for asymptomatic students.
“I think the measures are probably going to be the thing to credit for any lack of cases that we see,” Graham said. “It’s certainly not that the students were behaving particularly mindful of their risk of spread.”
A few more possible explanations: Those who rushed Franklin Street also might have been more likely to engage in risky behaviors before, and may have already caught and recovered from the virus.
Graham says it’s also possible that timing played a role, with the celebration coming so close to the start of the semester.
“Students already have been away from campus and presumably away from large crowds of people, if they were just visiting family,” Graham said. “So it might not have been that they were a viral load in the first place.”
CBS 17’s Joedy McCreary has been tracking COVID-19 figures since March 2020, compiling data from federal, state, and local sources to deliver a clear snapshot of what the coronavirus situation looks like now and what it could look like in the future.