UNC Revises COVID-19 Standards for Return to Campus


South Building, UNC's main administration building. (Photo by Dan Sears '74)

South Building, UNC’s main administration building. (Photo by Dan Sears ’74)

With preparations underway to bring Carolina’s approximately 12,300 employees back to campus by July 19 after mostly working remotely since March 2020, the University announced revised COVID-19 community standards that will take effect before they and students return.

An email message sent Wednesday to the campus community from Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz and Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Robert Blouin said the revised standards would take effect July 12. The first day of classes for the fall semester is scheduled for Aug. 18.

The standards:

  • Encourage, but do not mandate, getting a COVID-19 vaccination. The first standard listed in the email message was: “Getting an FDA-authorized COVID-19 vaccination is the best way for members of the Carolina community to protect themselves and others and to stop the spread of the virus.”
  • Require wearing face masks indoors, with some exceptions. The email message read: “You must wear a face mask at all times while inside any University building. You may remove your face mask in personal workspaces, your residence hall room, suite or apartment and when eating, drinking or exercising. Masks are not required outdoors. Vaccinated faculty may remove their masks while teaching as long as three to six feet of physical distancing is maintained. Every week we will follow the science, monitor the situation and evaluate the mask standard.”
  • Encourage healthy habits and being respectful of other community members. “As Carolina returns to a typical, in-person experience, we are committed to the well-being of our community — not just physically, but emotionally.” The message said those coming to campus should monitor their health and if they have any symptoms on UNC’s COVID-19 symptom list, they should not come to campus but instead should contact their doctor for guidance. It said community members also should “[r]espect and honor members of the Carolina community who wish to maintain their personal space” and should not ask others for their personal health information, such as vaccination status.
  • Set requirements for the Carolina Together Testing Program. Unvaccinated students will be required to participate on a weekly basis. Voluntary, asymptomatic testing will remain available for all students, faculty and staff.
  • Set contact tracing, quarantine and isolation requirements for unvaccinated and vaccinated individuals who are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, including students, faculty and staff who are contacted as part of local or University contact tracing.

With the revised standards, the University will lift several other restrictions, the message said, including pandemic capacity limits on classrooms, buildings, events and other gatherings. UNC dining, transportation and parking will resume “near normal” operations, the message said. Domestic travel restrictions are lifted, but international restrictions are still in place.

“The University is committed to making our campus as safe and welcoming as possible in every academic, research and work setting,” the message said. “Because of the hard work of our local community — Orange County has one of the highest vaccination rates in North Carolina — we are able to return to work with greater confidence in our mutual safety. We look forward to a more usual, in-person experience when we welcome over 30,000 students to campus for the fall 2021 term.”

Though vaccines will not be mandated, the message stressed several times that getting vaccinated is highly encouraged.

“While our adherence to these standards will help to support the safety of our community, the most important step each of us can take to protect ourselves is to get vaccinated,” the message said. “All members of the Carolina community, including family members, can receive a vaccine with no appointment at the Campus Health Pharmacy at Student Stores. If you’re vaccinated, it is important to report it using the COVID-19 Vaccination Certification form. So far, nearly 50% of incoming students have let us know their vaccination status while less than 30% of our faculty and staff have reported.”

The message also highlighted other measures that have been taken to make the campus safe.

“Throughout the past 15 months the dedicated staff of Facilities Services has increased the amount of cleaning and disinfecting that occurs across campus and also upgraded air filters and performed maintenance on HVAC systems to ensure ideal building ventilation. Enhanced cleaning standards will remain in place, and HVAC systems are scheduled to run for additional time to increase airflow.”

The message acknowledged concerns employees have expressed during recent online forums about the return to campus. In addition to concerns about mask wearing, physical distancing, air quality and the time required to get buildings ready for full-time occupancy again, some employees expressed a desire for a more staggered return to full-time work on campus to ease the transition back from remote working conditions. General work-schedule flexibility going forward has been a chief concern as well.

UNC’s Office of Human Resources recently launched a Returning to Work on Campus website to answer questions and help employees navigate the transition. The University also is reviewing applications for a pilot hybrid remote-work program for the fall semester that would allow some units to have employees continue to work remotely up to 40 percent of their time. The pilot program could lead to an ongoing remote-work policy as early as 2022.

“We know there are concerns and anxieties about returning to our workplace settings,” the message said. “The stressors of making a major change to our routines once again are real and remain for all of us after over a year of living through a pandemic. While many employees have been working on campus since last summer, many of you have been diligently working from your homes, continuing our mission of research, teaching and service while balancing the needs of your families, many times under the same roof. We are impressed by the work you have done remotely during the pandemic.”

But the message also stressed the need for employees’ return.

“As we look to the future, we will work together to shape our reimagined University, and we need you to return to campus to do that,” it said. “We have an opportunity now to look at our workplace habits and culture and incorporate learnings from the pandemic to better serve our employees as individuals, our teams and the work that we do. We know that by working together and supporting each other we will ensure a successful return to campus.”

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