Updated at 4:18 p.m.
Effective Wednesday, UNC Chapel Hill will move all undergraduate classes to remote learning.
Officials on Monday said they have seen the COVID-19 positivity rate rise from 2.8% to 13.6% at Campus Health in just the last week. As of Monday morning, UNC had tested 954 students and had 177 in isolation and 349 in quarantine, both on and off campus, according to a university statement.
"Due to this announcement as well as the reduction of campus activities, we expect the majority of our current undergraduate residential students to change their residential plans for the fall," Chancellor Kevin Guzkiewicz said in the statement. "We are working to identify additional effective ways to further achieve de-densification of our residential halls and our campus facilities."
University officials said courses in graduate, professional and health affairs schools will continue to be taught as they are, or as directed by the schools. Academic advising and academic support services will be available online.
On Sunday, officials identified another cluster of positive COVID-19 cases within student housing. The disclosure of cases within the Hinton James dormitory building marked the fourth such cluster — defined as five or more cases in close proximity — since the semester began Aug. 10 at the state's flagship public university campus. The other three occurred within an on-campus dormitory, private student housing and a fraternity house.
As with the other clusters, the individuals testing positive in the Hinton James cluster were being isolated and receiving medical monitoring. Contact tracing is also happening.
Sunday's announcement was expected to add to the tensions at a special meeting Monday of UNC-Chapel Hill's Faculty Executive Committee to discuss the coronavirus clusters. The committee of more than a dozen members advises school administrators on university issues, The News & Observer of Raleigh reported. Students are receiving a mix of in-person and remote instruction.
Committee Chair Mimi Chapman wrote a letter on Saturday asking the Board of Governors for the 17-campus UNC system to give UNC-Chapel Hill's chancellor “authority to make decisions” about classes.
“We knew there would be positive cases on our campus. But clusters, five or more people that are connected in one place, are a different story,” Chapman wrote. “The presence of clusters should be triggering reconsideration of residential, in-person learning. However, moving to remote instruction cannot be done without your approval.”
Chancellor Guskiewicz's administration made adjustments to instructional and housing rules in the days before classes began to respond to the concerns of Orange County's health director. But he said in a mass email Aug. 5 that “we believe we are well prepared” for the semester, and that “we were advised by the UNC system to stay the course with our current plan.”
Other UNC system schools already have started the fall semester or will soon.
“There are no easy answers as the nation navigates through the pandemic. At this point we haven’t received any information that would lead to similar modifications at any of our other universities," UNC System President Peter Hans said in Monday's statement. "Whether at Chapel Hill or another institution, students must continue to wear facial coverings and maintain social distancing, as their personal responsibility, particularly in off-campus settings, is critical to the success of this semester and to protect public health."
Nearly 145,000 COVID-19 cases have been reported overall in North Carolina since the pandemic began, according to state health data. While the seven-day rolling average for new cases in North Carolina are on the decline, the positivity rate for new tests has increased slightly, according to The COVID Tracking Project.
The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.
State Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley announced on Saturday the extension by another 30 days of her previous order requiring people to wear face coverings inside court facilities to stem the spread of the virus. Beasley also said in her order that she anticipates the suspension of jury trials to continue at least through the end of September.