UNC Reports First COVID Cluster of Fall Semester as Six Test Positive

(illustration by CDC/Alissa Eckert, MS; Dan Higgins, MAM)

With a week to go still before the first day of fall semester classes, UNC reported its first COVID-19 cluster on Wednesday.

A Carolina Together notification and tweet said the University had identified a cluster of six cases related to an event at the Eshelman School of Pharmacy. All of the individuals affected were “isolating and receiving medical monitoring,” the University said. UNC is working with the Orange County Health Department to “identify additional potential exposures.”

A “cluster” is defined by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services as five or more cases that are deemed close proximity in location or are epidemiologically linked.

According to the UNC-Chapel Hill COVID-19 Tracking dashboard as of Wednesday, 54 students and 28 employees had tested positive since Aug. 1.

The University’s roadmap for mitigating COVID-19’s threats involves both vaccination reporting and virus testing, in addition to mandatory masking while occupying indoor spaces on campus. All campus community members, including students, faculty and staff, who have not been vaccinated or who decline to share their vaccination status through UNC’s COVID-19 Vaccination Certification Form must undergo weekly testing for the virus.

The University has no authority to mandate that its students and employees get vaccinated, though the Faculty Executive Committee this month  called on the UNC System to delegate that right to the Chapel Hill campus leadership.

At a meeting of the UNC Campus & Community Advisory Committee on Wednesday, Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz told members he supported a vaccine mandate.

“I’m going to continue to advocate where I can, when I can — based on the guidance and advice our public health and infectious disease experts have given us — why in fact a mandate and the vaccine itself, most importantly, works,” Guskiewicz said, according to a report of the meeting in The News & Observer.

The UNC System maintains that the only entity that can mandate vaccines for college students is the N.C. Commission for Public Health. “Because the University of North Carolina is an agency of the State, the University must comply with state law and cannot substitute its own judgment for that of the Commission,” the System wrote in an April memo.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Guskiewicz also provided updated numbers on those who have attested to being vaccinated. Among students, 84 percent say they have received the vaccine, while 64 percent of staff and 92 percent of faculty have done so.


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