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UNC will not require COVID-19 tests for students or faculty before they return to campus


DTH Photo Illustration depicting a nasal swab used for COVID-19 testing.

The University will not be testing students for COVID-19 prior to re-entry on campus this semester.

That's according to the Carolina Together website, with the University’s Roadmap for Fall 2020, UNC's COVID-19 response plan. The website states that testing everyone “could create a false sense of security,” and that the CDC does not recommend widespread, asymptomatic testing. Rather, individuals should take preventative measures to combat the spread. These measures include social distancing, wearing a face covering and practicing daily health monitoring. 

Jim Thomas, a professor of epidemiology and ethics at the University, said the reasoning behind not testing everyone was, in part, an effort to conserve the limited testing supplies and staff resources available in the fall. 

“A test is informative for the moment that the test was taken,” Thomas said. “You can have a test taken and then you could leave and go to a bar and celebrate with your friends that you were negative and in that moment, get infected.”

Instead of testing everyone, individuals should work under the assumption that everybody is infected, he said. 

Madison Ward, a sophomore majoring in media and journalism and political science, said she was worried college students would not take the pandemic, and subsequent precautionary measures, seriously when they returned in the fall. 

In regards to testing, she said she hopes the University focuses on those who have been exposed to or have symptoms of the virus.

“I mean, in an ideal world, students would be notified if someone in their class or dorm tested positive, but I do also understand that this is a nearly impossible task considering how many students attend UNC,” Ward said.

The University is developing a COVID-19 dashboard to show the positive cases reported and the metrics they will use to inform decisions, UNC Media Relations said in an email. The dashboard will protect the anonymity of students, faculty and staff while providing holistic, transparent data. 

The dashboard is expected to be operational prior to the first day of classes, the email stated. 

In his essay “Reopening the UNC Campus,” Thomas wrote that trust, communication and transparency between the University and its people are essential for individuals to practice and maintain effective disease control measures. 

“We are all feeling these deep emotions,” Thomas told The Daily Tar Heel. “And when we are communicated to in a way that is lacking emotion, there is this intuitive sense that they're not getting it, they're not feeling what I'm feeling.”

Building trust between students, faculty, staff and the University would be essential in garnering compliance to health and safety guidelines, Thomas said. 

Here's how testing will work:

Daily health monitoring

According to Carolina Together, if students, faculty or staff experience any of the following symptoms, they should not attend class or work and should call their medical provider for further guidance. These symptoms should be monitored daily before going to campus:

  • Having new muscle aches that are not related to another medical condition or activity.
  • Having a temperature of greater than 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Having a sore throat, runny nose and/or congestion that is not related to another medical condition.
  • Having a new or worsening cough that is not related to another medical condition or activity.
  • Having shortness of breath that is not related to another medical condition.
  • Having recent (less than five days) loss of smell and/or taste.
  • Having a new onset of vomiting or diarrhea that is not related to another medical condition.
  • Having had recent close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.

Having any one of these symptoms, according to Media Relations, is grounds for consulting a medical provider. This provider can then determine whether COVID-19 testing or isolation is needed. 

Criteria for testing

According to Carolina Together, the University is following CDC guidelines for determining which individuals are tested. The qualifications are listed below:

  1. Individuals exhibiting symptoms for COVID-19.
  2. Individuals who do not have symptoms, but have come in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.
  3. Individuals who are in a CDC-defined high risk group.

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The website recommends that University employees, except for health care and COVID-19 researchers, request COVID-19 testing through their primary care physician. 

Tests offered

UNC Media Relations said in an email that the University is offering swab testing, specifically “polymerase chain swab testing,” for students at Campus Health and for employees by referral through the University Employee Occupational Health Clinic. 

Both Campus Health and the UEOHC will not be offering antibody testing, according to Media Relations. If interested in that testing, individuals can check with their healthcare provider to see if they offer antibody tests. 

The testing process

According to Media Relations, students are encouraged to make an appointment for testing before going to Campus Health, but walk-ins are allowed if the student meets the criteria for testing. 

When students arrive at Campus Health, they will be screened for symptoms and have their temperature taken. Students will then be tested in an area designated for COVID-19 testing. 

Testing positive

When a student tests positive for COVID-19, Campus Health will work alongside local health departments to conduct close contact tracing, according to Carolina Together. Environment, Health and Safety and UEOHC will conduct contact tracing for employees who test positive, focusing specifically on contact that occurred in the workplace or on campus.

Any student, faculty or staff that tests positive through a health care provider off-campus must notify Campus Health or the UEOHC. Students living on or off campus should notify Campus Health of a positive COVID-19 test result by calling Campus Health or through their patient portal. 

According to Carolina Together, individuals who test positive will then receive instructions on whether they will be in isolation or quarantine, which could last up to 14 days. Isolation is for those who have tested positive or are presumed positive, and quarantine is for those who have been exposed to the virus but have not been diagnosed, according to Carolina Together.  

Parker and Craige North residence halls will house on-campus residents requiring isolation or quarantine. 

During this time, individuals may not attend class, go to work or be on campus unless seeking medical care.

Emma Geis

Emma Geis is the 2023-24 copy chief at The Daily Tar Heel. She has previously served as a copy board member and summer copy chief. Emma is a fifth-year pursuing a double major in journalism and media and African, African American and Diaspora Studies.