- 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)
Biden to Mandate COVID Vaccines for Federal Workers as CDC Changes Masking Guidance
News of the efforts came on the same day that the U.S. reported more than 100,000 new daily COVID cases for the first time since February.
Federal Vaccine Mandate
President Joe Biden will announce Thursday that all federal employees must get vaccinated against COVID-19 or consent to strict testing and other safety precautions, White House officials told reporters Tuesday.
Earlier in the day, Biden said he was considering the requirement but did not provide any more information.
While the officials also said the details are still being hashed out, they did note that the policy would be similar to ones recently put in place by California and New York City, which respectively required state and city workers to get the jab or submit to regular testing.
Also on Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated their guidelines to recommend that Americans who live in areas “of substantial or high transmission,” as well as all students and teachers, wear masks indoors regardless of their vaccination status.
Delta Causes Spikes, But Vaccines Still Prove Effective
The renewed COVID mitigation efforts come as the delta variant is driving massive surges all over the country.
Coronavirus cases have quadrupled throughout July, jumping from a weekly average of 11,799 on the first day of the month to 63,248 on Tuesday, according to The New York Times tracker. Tuesday also saw new daily infections topping 100,000 for the first time since February, with more than 108,000 reported, per The Times.
While the vast majority of new infections are among people who have not been vaccinated, there have also been increasing reports of breakthrough cases in people who have received the jab.
Those cases, however, do not mean that the vaccines are not effective.
No vaccine prevents 100% of infections. Health officials have said time and time again that the jabs are intended to prevent severe disease and death, and they are doing just that.
According to the most recent data for July 19, the CDC reported that only 5,914 of the more than 161 million Americans who have gotten the vaccine were hospitalized or died from COVID-19 — a figure that represents 0.0036% of vaccinated people.
While safety precautions may be recommended for some people who have received the vaccine, many media narratives have overstated the role breakthrough cases play in the recent spikes. As New York Magazine explains, it is imperative to understand these new mask recommendations are not happening because the vaccine is not effective, but because not enough people are getting the vaccine.
“Because breakthrough infections have so often made the news due to their novelty, that can create a perception of more cases than are actually happening — particularly without more robust tracking of the actual cases to provide context,” the outlet wrote.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (CNBC)
Wisconsin Police Deny Planting Evidence in Viral Video, Release Their Own Body Cam Footage
The footage police released shows that during a search, officers found a corner tear from a plastic bag inside a backseat passenger’s pocket. An officer then discarded it into the car after determining that it was empty.
Viral Video Appears To Show Officer Planting Evidence
The Caledonia Police Department in Wisconsin has responded to a viral cell phone video that appears to show an officer planting a small plastic baggie inside of a car during a traffic stop.
The now-viral footage was posted to Facebook by a man who goes by GlockBoy Savoo.
The user, who also filmed the clip, wrote in his post’s caption that the officer did this “just to get a reason to search the car” and said the cop didn’t know he was being recorded by the passenger.
Police Shut Down Accusations With Their Own Footage
After that video spread across social media, many were outraged, calling the Caledonia police dirty for seemingly planting evidence. All the outrage eventually prompted the department to announce an investigation Saturday.
Within hours, the department provided an update, claiming that officers didn’t actually plant any evidence or do anything illegal.
Police shared a lengthy summary of events, along with two body camera clips from the incident. That statement explained that the driver of the vehicle was pulled over for going 63 in a 45mph zone.
Two passengers in the backseat who were then spotted without seatbelts were asked to identify themselves and step out of the car. During a search of one passenger’s pockets, an officer pulled out “an empty corner tear” from a plastic baggie.
Police claim the corner tear did not contain any illegal substances, though they said this type of packaging is a common method for holding illegal drugs.
In one body cam clip, an officer can be heard briefly questioning the backseat passenger about the baggie. Then, that piece of plastic gets handed off to different officers who also determined it as empty before the officer in the original viral video discarded it into the back of the car.
The officer can also be seen explaining where the plastic came from to the passenger recording him.
“Aye, bro you just threw that in here!” the front seat passenger says, as heard in his version of the events.
“Yeah, cause it was in his pocket and I don’t want to hold onto it. It’s on their body cam that they took it off of him…I’m telling you where it came from, so. It’s an empty baggie at the moment too, so,” the officer replies.
The department went on to explain that while it would discourage officers from discarding items into a citizen’s car, this footage proves that evidence was not planted.
Authorities also noted that no arrests were made in this incident and the driver was the only one issued a citation for speeding. The statement added that since four officers were present at the scene, police have more than six hours of footage to review but they promised to release the footage in full in the near future.
See what others are saying: (Heavy)(CBS 58) (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)
Medical Groups, Local Leaders Push for Healthcare Workers and Public Employees To Get Vaccinated
The move comes as COVID cases have nearly quadrupled in the last month due to the rapid spread of the highly infectious delta variant.
Increased Calls for Mandatory Vaccinations in Certain Sectors
More than 50 of America’s largest medical groups representing millions of healthcare workers issued a statement Monday calling for employers of all health and long-term care providers to require mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations.
The groups, which included the American Medical Association, the American Nurses Association, and 55 others, cited contagious new variants — including delta — and low vaccination rates.
“Vaccination is the primary way to put the pandemic behind us and avoid the return of stringent public health measures,” they wrote.
The call to action comes as new COVID cases have almost quadrupled during the month of July, jumping from just around 13,000 infections a day at the beginning of this month to more than 50,000.
While the vast majority of new infections and hospitalizations are among those who have not received the vaccines, many healthcare workers remain unvaccinated. According to data collected by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, over 38% of nursing home staff were not fully vaccinated as of July 11.
An analysis by WebMD and Medscape Medical News found that around 25% of hospital workers who were in contact with patients had not been vaccinated by the end of May when vaccinations became widely available.
In addition to calls for medical professionals to get vaccinated, some local leaders have also begun to impose mandates for public employees as cases continue spiking.
Last month, San Francisco announced that it was requiring all city workers to get vaccinated. Also on Monday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said that all municipal employees — including police officers and teachers — must either get the jab or agree to weekly testing by the time school starts in September.
Dr. Fauci Says U.S. Officials Are Considering Revising Mask Guidance for Vaccinated People
Numerous top U.S. health officials have applauded efforts by local leaders to mitigate further spread of the coronavirus, including the nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, who confirmed Sunday that federal officials are actively considering whether to revise federal masking guidelines to recommend that vaccinated Americans wear face coverings in public settings.
In May, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said people who are vaccinated do not need to mask in public. Although that was a non-binding recommendation, many states and cities that had not already lifted restrictions on masking began to do so shortly after.
But now, local leaders in areas seeing big spikes have begun reimposing mask mandates — even for those who are vaccinated — including major counties like Los Angeles and St. Louis.
In his remarks Sunday, Fauci also emphasized that, despite claims from many conservatives, those efforts are in line with the federal recommendations, which leave space for local leaders to issue their own rules.
While Fauci and other top U.S. public health officials have encouraged local governments to take action, Republican lawmakers in several states are taking steps to limit the ability of local leaders and public health officials to take certain mitigation measures.
According to the Network for Public Health Law, at least 15 state legislatures have passed or are considering bills to limit the legal authority of public health agencies — and that does not even include unilateral action taken by governors.
Some of the leaders of states suffering the biggest spikes have banned local officials from imposing their own mask mandates, like Arkansas, which has the highest per capita cases in the country right now, as well as Florida, which currently ranks third.
Notably, some of the laws proposed or passed by Republicans could go beyond just preventing local officials from trying to mitigate surges in COVID cases and may have major implications for other public health crises.
For example, according to The Washington Post, a North Dakota law that bans mask mandates applies to other breakouts — even tuberculosis — while a new Montana law also bars the use of quarantine for people who have been exposed to an infectious disease but have not yet tested positive.