- University of North Carolina Chapel Hill will be pivoting to remote learning for its undergraduate students after 135 people tested positive for the coronavirus during the first week of in-person instruction on campus.
- The Daily Tar Heel, UNC-Chapel Hill’s student paper, slammed the school’s reopening strategy and believed the school should have done more to prevent COVID-19 clusters from popping up on campus.
- College towns across the country are bracing for potential virus surges as students return. Students at the University of North Georgia sparked concerns after a viral video showed students partying in close capacity without masks.
- These concerns are furthered by data that shows young adults are driving the spread of COVID-19.
UNC Chapel Hill Goes Remote
The University of North Carolina Chapel Hill announced Monday that it will be pivoting its undergraduate instruction to remote learning after the school saw 135 coronavirus cases just one week after in-person classes began.
Classes started on August 10. Between then and August 16, 130 students and five teachers tested positive, according to the school’s COVID-19 dashboard. The positivity rate has also jumped significantly. During that week, they tested 954 students and had a 13.6% positivity rate. The week prior only resulted in a 2.8% positivity rate.
According to an email sent to students, 177 students are in isolation and 349 are in quarantine both on and off-campus. UNC-Chapel Hill expects students to change their residential plans and will look for other ways to reduce population density on its campus. Students who request to cancel residence hall requests will not face a penalty and certain students will have the option to remain in dorms.
Remote learning will begin on Wednesday.
Prior Concerns at UNC-Chapel Hill
While officials at the school said the decision to shut in-person instruction down after reopening was a difficult one, many in the UNC-Chapel Hill community thought this was nearly inevitable.
Quintana Stewart, the Health Director for Orange County, North Carolina, had previously stated her opposition to students returning too quickly. At the end of July, she said that if students return to campus, the area could “quickly become a hot spot for new cases as thousands of students from all across the country [and] world merge onto the UNC campus and begin to interact in a manner very normal for college students.”
Students were also among those who were skeptical about the university’s plans to get students back. One day before the school announced classes would be going online, their school paper, The Daily Tar Heel, put out an editorial addressing rumored and reported coronavirus clusters that had popped up on campus. The title of the piece was “We All Saw This Coming.”
“University leadership should have expected students, many of whom are now living on their own for the first time, to be reckless,” the editorial board wrote. “Reports of parties throughout the weekend come as no surprise. Though these students are not faultless, it was the University’s responsibility to disincentivize such gatherings by reconsidering its plans to operate in-person earlier on.”
According to The Daily Tar Heel, school officials ignored recommendations about housing and online instruction that the local department of health gave them. They also ignored guidance from the Centers of Disease Control, which placed their housing plan in the “highest risk” category.
“The administration continues to prove they have no shame, and the bar for basic decency keeps getting lower,” the editorial continued.
UNC-Chapel Hill dubbed its reopening plans a “Roadmap for Fall 2020.” The editorial board has little faith in that plan.
“One thing’s for sure — this roadmap leads straight to hell,” they concluded.
Fears In Other College Towns
COVID-19 concerns don’t stop at UNC-Chapel Hill. They extend to colleges and college towns across the country. As students return to campus, they could potentially create virus hubs not just in their schools, but in the whole community. Now, college towns are bracing for surges in their areas once kids make their way back.
These concerns are not unfounded. In Boston, where students make up around 20% of the city’s population, two schools already have confirmed COVID-19 cases. Boston College is hiring a police detail just to shut down parties because of coronavirus concerns.
Parties are a high priority concern when it comes to coronavirus spread on college campuses. Unsanctioned get-togethers are all but guaranteed, and the odds of students standing six feet apart from one another are probably less than favorable.
At the University of North Georgia, students made headlines after a viral video showed a massive party of college students who had recently returned just days before classes were set to resume. That video shows groups standing shoulder to shoulder outside, with most students opting to not wear a face mask.
Cases in the state of Georgia remain high and young adults are actually leading coronavirus spread in the state. However, this is not unique to Georgia. A representative for the World Health Organization told Reuters that infections in young people are on the rise and could impact vulnerable people in densely populated areas.
“The epidemic is changing,” WHO Western Pacific regional director, Takeshi Kasai, said. “People in their 20s, 30s and 40s are increasingly driving the spread,”
See what others are saying: (CBS News) (The News & Observer) (The Guardian)
Amanda Gorman Wows the Nation With “The Hill We Climb”
- Amanda Gorman, a 22-year-old poet, impressed the nation when she read “The Hill We Climb” at President Biden’s inauguration, making her the youngest inaugural poet in the nation’s history.
- Gorman’s said the Jan. 6 attack on the nation’s Capitol inspired her to focus on a message of hope, community, and healing in her poem.
- Big names like Oprah Winfrey, Anderson Cooper, Barack Obama, and Lin-Manuel Miranda have all praised her work.
Amanda Gorman Becomes Youngest Inaugural Poet
Inaugural poet Amanda Gorman wowed the nation on Wednesday as she spoke of healing, unity, hope, and what it means to be American while reading her poem, “The Hill We Climb.”
At 22-years-old Gorman is the youngest inaugural poet in the nation’s history. Born and raised in Los Angeles, she was the youth poet laureate of Los Angeles in 2014 at the age of 16. She then became the first national youth poet laureate in 2017.
Now, her books are topping Amazon’s Best Sellers list and they are not even scheduled to be released until the fall.
First Lady Dr. Jill Biden became a fan of Gorman after watching her give a reading at the Library of Congress. She then suggested that Gorman be a part of the ceremony.
“Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true: That even as we grieved, we grew. That even as we hurt, we hoped That even as we tired, we tried,” Gorman recited during inauguration. “That we’ll forever be tied together, victorious. Not because we will never again know defeat but because we will never again sow division.”
Like President Biden, Gorman has struggled with a speech impediment and has been open about her experience overcoming it. She actually used poetry as a tool to correct it. First, she used it as a way of expressing herself without having to speak. Then she used it to bring her poems to life.
“Once I arrived at the point in my life in high school, where I said, ‘you know what? Writing my poems on the page isn’t enough for me,” she told CBS News. “I have to give them breath, and life, I have to perform them as I am.’ That was the moment that I was able to grow past my speech impediment.”
What Inspired “The Hill We Climb”
Gorman said the inaugural committee gave her freedom and flexibility when it came to choosing what to write about. She was well on her way before the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Those events then influenced her writing.
“It energized me even more to believe that much more firmly in a message of hope, community and healing. I felt like that was the type of poem that I needed to write and it was the type of poem that the country and the world needed to hear,” she told CNN’s Anderson Cooper.
That message came across clearly and the insurrection was depicted in part of “The Hill We Climb.”
“It’s because being American is more than a pride we inherit. It’s the past we step into and how we repair it. We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it, would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy and this effort very nearly succeeded,” she said. “But while democracy can be periodically delayed it can never be permanently defeated. In this truth, in this faith we trust. For while we have our eyes on the future history has its eyes on us.”
Nation Impressed by Gorman
“Wow…Wow, I just, wow you’re awesome,” Cooper said when closing his interview with her. “I am so transfixed.”
Lin-Manuel Miranda also cheered Gorman on. “The Hill We Climb” notably references a line of scripture that appears in a “Hamilton” song. Gorman also said she used to sing the song “Aaron Burr, Sir” to help her say her R sounds and correct her speech impediment.
“I have never been prouder to see another young woman rise!” Oprah Winfrey wrote. “Brava Brava Amanda Gorman! Maya Angelou is cheering—and so am I.”
Winfrey also gave Gorman a ring with a caged bird on it—a reference to the famous Angelou poem— which Gorman wore during the inauguration.
Actor Mark Ruffalo joined the onslaught of praise, saying that her words will lead the nation.
Former President Barack Obama echoed that idea as well, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Gorman promised to run for president one day.
See what others are saying: (CBS News) (New York Times) (Los Angeles Times)
SAT Drops Subject Tests and Optional Essay Section
- The College Board will discontinue SAT subject tests effective immediately and will scrap the optional essay section in June.
- The organization cited the coronavirus pandemic as part of the reason for accelerating these changes.
- Regarding subject tests, the College Board said the other half of the decision rested on the fact that Advanced Placement tests are now more accessible to low-income students and students of color, making subject tests unnecessary.
- It also said it plans to launch a digital version of the SAT in the near future, despite failing to implement such a plan last year after a previous announcement.
College Board Ends Subject Tests and Optional Essay
College Board announced Tuesday that it will scrap the SAT’s optional essay section, as well as subject tests.
Officials at the organization cited the COVID-19 pandemic as part of the reason for these changes, saying is has “accelerated a process already underway at the College Board to simplify our work and reduce demands on students.”
The decision was also made in part because Advanced Placement tests, which College Board also administers, are now available to more low-income students and students of color. Thus, College Board has said this makes SAT subject tests unnecessary.
While subject tests will be phased out for international students, they have been discontinued effective immediately in the U.S.
Regarding the optional essay, College Board said high school students are now able to express their writing skills in a variety of ways, a factor which has made the essay section less necessary.
With several exceptions, it will be discontinued in June.
The Board Will Implement an Online SAT Test
In its announcement, College Board also said it plans to launch a revised version of the SAT that’s aimed at making it “more flexible” and “streamlined” for students to take the test online.
In April 2020, College Board announced it would be launching a digital SAT test in the fall if schools didn’t reopen. The College Board then backtracked on its plans for a digital test in June, before many schools even decided they would remain closed.
According to College Board, technological challenges led to the decision to postpone that plan.
For now, no other details about the current plan have been released, though more are expected to be revealed in April.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (The New York Times)
Biden To Block Trump’s Order Lifting COVID-19 Travel Ban
- President Trump issued an executive order Monday lifting a ban on travelers from the Schengen area of Europe, the U.K., Ireland, and Brazil.
- Trump said the policy will no longer be needed starting Jan. 26, when the CDC will start requiring all passengers from abroad to present proof of a negative coronavirus test before boarding a flight.
- The move was cheered by the travel industry; however, incoming White House press secretary Jennifer Psaki warned that Biden’s administration does not intend to lift the travel restrictions.
Trump Order End To COVID-19 Travel Ban
President Donald Trump issued an executive order Monday ending his administration’s ban on travelers from the Schengen area of Europe, the U.K., Ireland, and Brazil.
That ban was put in place last spring in an effort to curb the spread of coronavirus in the U.S. In his announcement, however, Trump said the policy will no longer be needed starting Jan. 26, when new rules from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention go into effect.
Starting that day, the CDC will require all passengers from abroad to present proof of a negative coronavirus test before boarding a flight.
The recommendation to lift the ban reportedly came from Alex Azar, the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services. According to Trump’s proclamation, “the Secretary reports high confidence that these jurisdictions will cooperate with the United States in the implementation of CDC’s January 12, 2021, order and that tests administered there will yield accurate results.”
It’s worth noting that the ban will stay in place for travelers from Iran and China. Still, Trump’s announcement was generally cheered by members of the travel industry who have been pushing to lift the ban and require preflight testing instead.
Biden To Block Trump’s Order
Soon after the news broke, the incoming White House press secretary for President-elect Joe Biden, Jennifer Psaki, warned that Biden would block Trump’s order.
“With the pandemic worsening, and more contagious variants emerging around the world, this is not the time to be lifting restrictions on international travel,” she wrote on Twitter.
“On the advice of our medical team, the Administration does not intend to lift these restrictions on 1/26. In fact, we plan to strengthen public health measures around international travel in order to further mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” she added.
With that, it seems unlikely that Trump’s order will actually take effect.
It’s also worth noting that this is one of many executive orders Trump has issued just before inauguration day.
Some of these orders could soon be overturned once Biden takes office Wednesday. Biden is also expected to roll out his own wave of executive orders in his first 10 days as president.