A look at COVID-19 at UNC this spring
A look at COVID-19 at UNC this spring

A look at COVID-19 at UNC this spring

UNC senior Ellie Crowther-Dias said she tested positive for COVID-19 on April 6th.

She believes she contracted the virus after rushing Franklin Street to celebrate UNC’s victory over Duke in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four the Saturday before.

“The one time I did not take a precaution was when I hurried up Franklin Street with 35,000 other people,” Crowther-Dias said. “And that was the one time I got COVID.”

The University lifted his mask mandate for most indoor spaces, including classrooms, from March 7th.

Until the end of March, the UNC’s reported positive cases shown on its COVID-19 dashboard remained consistently low. Thirteen students tested positive on March 11, according to the dashboard – the highest number of daily student cases that month.

The last full update of the dashboard – which had been in place since 2020 – was on April 1, and the university announced the change in updates in a formal announcement on April 6.

Crowther-Dias said she was not happy that the university’s indoor mask mandate was lifted last month.

“I don’t like wearing a mask,” she said. “I can completely relate to people who say it’s annoying, they do not want to do it anymore. But the other side of it, getting COVID or making other people sick is so much worse than being bothered by a little bit of substance. . “

The mask mandate was revoked following instructions from UNC system and Orange County Health Department. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the county was no longer in the high-risk category.

Changes in university policy

Following the repeal of the campus mask mandate, the university implemented other changes in response to the latest COVID-19 data trends.

This month, when the university’s dashboard stopped updating, it was replaced with a collection of external dashboards.

“The positivity rate on campus has remained low over the past few weeks, averaging less than 3%, and the number of cases has also dropped locally,” read the April 6 email on campus.

Other changes include reduced hours through the Carolina Together Testing Program, which went into effect March 14. The Student Union’s test page is now only open on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

Testing has also gone over to only go in instead of by appointment – which was required for students at the beginning of the semester.

A possible resurgence

Justin Lessler, professor at the Gillings School of Global Public Health’s Department of Epidemiology, has been involved in COVID-19 research since January 2020.

Lessler was one of the authors on January 4 planning letter put together by UNC researchers, including epidemiologists Jessie Edwards and Audrey Pettifor, and Assistant Geography Professor and Carolina Population Center Fellow Paul Delamater.

The map expected campus infections to peak two to three weeks into the spring semester with 850 to 1,650 infections a day.

UNC reported 838 positive cases among students during the week ending January 9, on the dashboard. That week, the record for one-day student case was 185 positive tests. The daily positive case record rose to a total of 240 students on January 19 before going down.

National and local COVID-19 trends have declined through the spring, Lessler said, until quite recently.

“We’re starting to see a bit of a resurgence, which I think has to do with both the impact of the BA.2 variant and a pretty big effect of behavior change, as mask mandates become less prevalent,” Lessler said.

For the week ending April 9, the NC Department of Health and Human Services reported 323 cases for Orange County, more than double from the previous week’s 111 report.

The BA.2 variant, a subvariant of omicron, currently dominates global case numbers. Compared to other strains, vaccines are less effective against the BA.2 variant and have been shown to be associated with recent increases in other countries.

Security strategies

The CDC guidelines for community COVID-19 safety are now focused on analyzing hospitalization rates as opposed to test counts and positivity rates.

Lessler said this decision is justified for two reasons: Community testing has moved to the home or clinician’s offices focusing on rapid testing, and the severity of infection waves has decreased as populations build immunity.

“It really makes sense to focus on the admissions and the serious outcomes because we do not want to shut everything down based on what is basically a wave of mild illness,” he said.

Lessler said that while major events such as students rushing to Franklin Street may contribute to the spread of COVID-19, they are not the only factor.

“I think these things may be seeding events, but I think it’s more maintained behaviors that are likely to keep the epidemic going,” he said.

Look forward to

In the event of a resurgence, Lessler said, he hopes the university would be willing to reintroduce some of its security policies that helped keep community members safe in previous semesters.

UNC Media Relations said in an email that the university determines its community standards based on the UNC system, state and local guidelines.

“We are constantly monitoring local conditions and will continue to consult with system management and local health managers to determine further changes,” the email read.

As an epidemiologist, Lessler said, he is primarily concerned about the spread of the disease, but he acknowledges that the county and the university have different priorities they need to balance.

“Caution does not have to be mandated,” Lessler said. “When we see cases increase, I think people should consider their safety and those around them and be a little more careful in the coming weeks.”

@laynanhong

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