RALEIGH — Appalachian State and UNC-Greensboro were the two largest UNC system institutions still conducting a portion of fall semester undergraduate classes in person as of Tuesday, Aug. 25.
Over the past week, the system’s four largest universities in terms of enrollment — UNC-Chapel Hill, N.C. State, East Carolina and UNC-Charlotte — have announced that all undergraduate classes will take place online, at least temporarily, amid rising COVID-19 infections on college campuses.
UNC-Chapel Hill was the first to announce it would shift from a mix of in-person and online instruction to remote learning for all undergraduate courses — one week after fall classes began on Aug. 10. In the week since UNC-Chapel Hill announced it would make the shift and work to “de-densify” its campus, including moving students out of residence halls, 513 new student cases have been reported, including multiple clusters in residence halls. Granville Towers is the largest cluster, with 152 cases in the student housing complex, according to UNC-Chapel Hill’s COVID-19 dashboard.
For the week of Aug. 17 to 23, the percent of tests with positive results had risen to 32.2 percent, according to the dashboard.
N.C. State University, which also began fall classes on Aug. 10, on Aug. 20 became the second University of North Carolina system institution to announce it would move all classes online.
N.C. State Chancellor Randy Woodson announced in a statement to campus that all in-person and hybrid undergraduate courses would move to online instruction beginning Monday, Aug. 24. While student residence halls will not close, the university will offer housing and dining refunds for those who choose to move off campus, he said.
Woodson thanked the staff and faculty who “worked tirelessly over the past many weeks to prepare our campus to be an effective, and safe, learning and living environment” but had strong words about “the negative impacts caused by those who did not take personal responsibility.”
“We’ve had reports of large parties in off-campus apartments. In the last two days alone, we’ve identified three COVID-19 clusters in off-campus and Greek Village houses that can be traced to parties and behavior outside of our community standards and the governor’s mandates,” Woodson said. “We’re seeing significant infections in Greek life, and at this time there have been another seven Greek houses that have been quarantined due to a number of additional positive cases.
“Battling the spread of COVID-19 is a challenging endeavor even when everyone is practicing safety measures,” Woodson continued. “Unfortunately, the actions of a few are jeopardizing the health and safety of the larger community.”
In a statement to the Associated Press, Josh Ellis, spokesman for the UNC system, said that decisions on whether to shift to remote classes will be made by individual campuses with the necessary approval.
“Any decision to modify campus operations will be made by the president (Peter Hans), with each chancellor, in consultation with the leadership of both boards of trustees and the Board of Governors, and always grounded in reliable public health data and prevailing local health conditions,” Ellis said.
In a statement released Aug. 20 by the UNC system, Hans, like Woodson, pointed the finger at students.
“Over the spring and summer every institution prepared for the fall semester under the guidance of well-known public health officials,” Hans said. “This hard work is being undermined by a very small number of students behaving irresponsibly off campus, which unfairly punishes the vast majority of their classmates who are following the rules.”
“Since my arrival on Aug. 1, I’ve worked closely with each chancellor to support their efforts and to make adjustments based on local health conditions,” he added. “We’ll continue to provide a high-quality mix of online and in-person educational options as the entire nation strives to manage its way through a lengthy global pandemic to a better and safer place for everyone.”
East Carolina University and UNC-Charlotte announced Sunday, Aug. 23, that their institutions would move courses online in response to the coronavirus pandemic. East Carolina suspended classes on Monday and Tuesday to adjust, while UNC-Charlotte had yet to begin its fall semester.
UNC-Charlotte will begin classes as scheduled on Sept. 7, but it’s delaying the start of undergraduate and graduate in-person instruction for three weeks until Thursday, Oct. 1, the AP reported. All instruction will begin as planned on the first day of classes Sept. 7, but will now be delivered online.
In a message to campus following UNC-Chapel Hill’s announcement on Aug. 17, Appalachian State University Chancellor Sheri Everts said there were no immediate plans to change course delivery methods at App State. The fall schedule at Appalachian consists of 30 percent face-to-face classes, 30 percent hybrid classes and 40 percent remote/online classes, spokesperson Megan Hayes said earlier this month.
“We are in constant communications with UNC system officials, as well as our local public health experts, to monitor conditions on our campus,” Everts said at the time. “While there is no exact set of metrics that will determine when a UNC system campus may move to all-remote learning, we know that if we can keep the transmission of COVID-19 low, we will be able to stay on campus.”
Everts said she was encouraged by the campus’s numbers so far: Of 2,006 COVID-19 tests conducted during move-in week, 27, or 1.3 percent, were positive. As of Aug. 25, the campus had 33 active cases among students and one among employees, and to date, there have been 138 student cases, 23 employee cases and 41 subcontractor cases, according to App State’s COVID-19 dashboard.
The chancellor said that 86 percent of the university’s isolation and quarantine space was available as of Aug. 17, with additional options that can be utilized if needed.
At least two clusters — five or more cases within a 14-day period that are linked — have been identified on the Appalachian State campus, including at the Child Development Center and among the football team.
AppHealthCare, the regional health department, confirmed that 34 people associated with App State’s football team — 30 athletes and 4 staff — have tested positive for COVID-19 since June, when the football team began a phased return of players to campus for summer workouts. AppHealthCare and the university announced a cluster of 11 active cases associated with the football team on Aug. 18.
Appalachian leaders have strongly discouraged gatherings that exceed current COVID-19 restrictions in North Carolina, which limit gatherings to 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors.
On Aug. 14, Everts said, the Delta Chi fraternity was placed under interim suspension by the university and a cease and desist order by the national organization, pending an investigation, for failure to follow the Joint Council Safety Statement regarding off-campus gatherings.
“I cannot emphasize strongly enough that it is up to each of us to minimize the spread of COVID-19 among members of our university and the greater community,” Everts said.
The university’s Student Government Association issued a statement on Aug. 12 indicating it was aware of “numerous large gatherings hosted and attended by students,” which it said “cannot and will not be tolerated.”
Student Body President Michael Davis spoke at the Boone Town Council’s online meeting on Aug. 18, expressing support for police enforcement of the state’s executive orders. He mentioned a recent party on King Street that reportedly had 200 people in attendance.