- 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)
Lincoln College to Close for Good After COVID and Ransomware Attack Ruin Finances
Last year, 1,043 schools in the U.S. were the victim of ransomware attacks, including 26 colleges or universities, according to an analysis by Emsisoft.
One of the Only Historically Black Colleges in the Midwest Goes Down
After 157 years of educating mostly Black students in Illinois, Lincoln College will close its doors for good on Friday.
The college made the announcement last month, citing financial troubles caused by the coronavirus pandemic and a ransomware attack in December.
Enrollment dropped during the pandemic and the administration had to make costly investments in technology and campus safety measures, according to a statement from the school.
A shrinking endowment put additional pressure on the college’s budget.
The ransomware attack, which the college has said originated from Iran, thwarted admissions activities and hindered access to all institutional data. Systems for recruitment, retention, and fundraising were completely inoperable at a time when the administration needed them most.
In March, the college paid the ransom, which it has said amounted to less than $100,000. But according to Lincoln’s statement, subsequent projections showed enrollment shortfalls so significant the college would need a transformational donation or partnership to make it beyond the present semester.
The college put out a request for $50 million in a last-ditch effort to save itself, but no one came forward to provide it.
A GoFundMe aiming to raise $20 million for the college only collected $2,452 as of Tuesday.
Students and Employees Give a Bittersweet Goodbye
“The loss of history, careers, and a community of students and alumni is immense,” David Gerlach, the college’s president, said in a statement.
Lincoln counts nearly 1,000 enrolled students, and those who did not graduate this spring will leave the institution without degrees.
Gerlach has said that 22 colleges have worked with Lincoln to accept the remaining students, including their credits, tuition prices, and residency requirements.
“I was shocked and saddened by that news because of me being a freshman, so now I have to find someplace for me to go,” one student told WMBD News after the closure was announced.
When a group of students confronted Gerlach at his office about the closure, he responded with an emotional speech.
“I have been fighting hard to save this place,” he said. “But resources are resources. We’ve done everything we possibly could.”
On April 30, alumni were invited back to the campus to revisit the highlights of their college years before the institution closed.
On Saturday, the college held its final graduation ceremony, where over 200 students accepted their diplomas and Quentin Brackenridge performed the Lincoln Alma Mater.
Last year, 1,043 schools in the U.S. were the victim of ransomware attacks, including 26 colleges or universities, according to an analysis by Emsisoft.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Herald Review) (CNN)
U.S. Tops One Million Coronavirus Deaths, WHO Estimates 15 Million Worldwide
India’s real COVID death toll stands at about 4.7 million, ten times higher than official data, the WHO estimated.
One Million Dead
The United States officially surpassed one million coronavirus deaths Wednesday, 26 months after the first death was reported in late February of 2020.
Experts believe that figure is likely an undercount, since there are around 200,000 excess deaths, though some of those may not be COVID-related.
The figure is the equivalent of the population of San Jose, the tenth-largest city in the U.S., vanishing in just over two years. To put the magnitude in visual perspective, NECN published a graphic illustrating what one million deaths looks like.
At the beginning of the pandemic, the White House predicted between 100,000 and 240,000 Americans would die from the coronavirus in a best-case scenario.
By February 2021, over half a million Americans had died of COVID.
The coronavirus has become the third leading cause of death in the U.S. behind heart disease and cancer.
The pandemic’s effects go beyond its death toll. Around a quarter of a million children have lost a caregiver to the virus, including about 200,000 who lost one or both parents. Every COVID-related death leaves an estimated nine people grieving.
The virus has hit certain industries harder than others, with food and agriculture, warehouse operations and manufacturing, and transportation and construction seeing especially high death rates.
People’s mental health has also been affected, with a study in January of five Western countries including the U.S. finding that 13% of people reported symptoms of PTSD attributable to actual or potential contact with the virus.
Fifteen Million Dead
On Thursday, the World Health Organization estimated that nearly 15 million people have died from the pandemic worldwide, a dramatic revision from the 5.4 million previously reported in official statistics.
Between January 2020 and the end of last year, the WHO estimated that between 13.3 million and 16.6 million people died either due to the coronavirus directly or because of factors somehow attributed to the pandemic’s impact on health systems, such as cancer patients who were unable to seek treatment when hospitals were full of COVID patients.
Based on that range, scientists arrived at an approximate total of 14.9 million.
The new estimate shows a 13% increase in deaths than is usually expected for a two-year period.
“This may seem like just a bean-counting exercise, but having these WHO numbers is so critical to understanding how we should combat future pandemics and continue to respond to this one,” Dr. Albert Ko, an infectious diseases specialist at the Yale School of Public Health who was not linked to the WHO research, told the Associated Press.
Most of the deaths occurred in Southeast Asia, Europe, and the Americas.
According to the WHO, India counts the most deaths by far with 4.7 million, ten times its official number.
See what others are saying: (NBC) (U.S. News and World Report) (Scientific American)
Official Says Missing Alabama Convict and Corrections Officer Had a “Special Relationship”
Authorities have also said they now believe the officer willfully helped the inmate escape.
New Information on Missing Inmate & Officer
Authorities in Alabama revealed Tuesday that Assistant Director of Corrections for Lauderdale County Vicky White, who is accused of helping a murder suspect Casey Cole White escape from jail, had a “special relationship” with the inmate.
“Investigators received information from inmates at the Lauderdale County Detention Center over the weekend that there was a special relationship between Director White and inmate Casey White,” Lauderdale County Sheriff Rick Singleton said in a statement. “That relationship has now been confirmed through our investigation by independent sources and means.”
Officials have previously said that the two are not related, despite their shared surname.
Singleton elaborated on the nature of the relationship while speaking to CNN later on Tuesday. He said it took place “outside of her normal work hours” and added that although it did not include “physical contact,” he still characterized it as “a relationship of a different nature.”
“We were told Casey White got special privileges and was treated differently while in the facility than the other inmates,” Singleton said.
Also on Tuesday, the Marshals Service issued a statement confirming that authorities believe Officer White had helped Mr. White escape. The authorities described her as a “wanted fugitive” and offered a $5,000 reward for any information on her whereabouts. Earlier this week, the Marshals Service also offered a $10,000 reward for any information that could lead to Mr. White’s capture.
Singleton echoed the belief that Officer White’s actions were intentional while speaking to Good Morning America Wednesday.
“I think all of our employees and myself included were really hoping that she did not participate in this willingly. But all indications are that she absolutely did,” he said. “We’re very disappointed in that because we had the utmost trust in her as an employee and as an assistant director of corrections.”
Vicky White and Casey White were last seen leaving the Lauderdale County jail just after 9:30 a.m. Friday. The officer told other employees that she was taking the inmate to a mental health evaluation at a courthouse just down the road, and that she would be going to a medical appointment after because she was not feeling well.
Officials later said her actions violated an official policy that required two sworn deputies to transport people with murder charges. In 2020, Mr. White was charged with two counts of capital murder in connection to a fatal stabbing he confessed to and was awaiting his trial in Lauderdale County.
Mr. White was also serving time for what officials said was a “crime spree” in 2015 which included home invasion, carjacking, and a police chase. He had also previously tried to escape from jail, police said.
It wasn’t until 3:30 p.m. on Friday that a jail employee reported to higher-ups that he was not able to reach Officer White on her phone and that Mr. White had never been returned to his cell.
During a press conference that same night, Singleton told reporters that there had never even been a scheduled mental health evaluation. At another briefing Monday, he announced that an arrest warrant had been issued for Vicky on a charge of “permitting or facilitating an escape in the first degree.”
At the time, Singleton said it was unclear “whether she did that willingly or was coerced or threatened” but added, “we know for sure she did participate.”