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UNC reported 135 new COVID-19 cases. Here's what's happening at UNC System schools

Schools across North Carolina, including NC State, ECU and UNC-Charlotte in addition to UNC-Chapel Hill are publishing their university's COVID-19 data in various formats.

UNC-Chapel Hill has seen the highest number of coronavirus cases of the 17 UNC System institutions, given available data from each institution.

UNC’s COVID-19 dashboard was updated Monday afternoon to show 135 new COVID-19 cases reported in students and employees last week. Shortly after this data update, the University sent a formal notice shifting all undergraduate courses to remote instruction beginning Wednesday.

As of Wednesday, UNC has reported six COVID-19 clusters — four in student residences and two in off-campus fraternity houses.

According to the formal notice, the University had tested 954 students as of Monday morning. Between both on and off-campus spaces, 177 students were in isolation and 349 were in quarantine since then.

The positivity rate for UNC-Chapel Hill's coronavirus cases last week was 13.6 percent, nearly five times the 2.8 percent positivity rate reported the previous week, when classes had not yet begun.

The varying reporting processes affect when tests are reported and which tests are accounted for in UNC-Chapel Hill's COVID-19 dashboard. 

‘We can only report what we know about’

According to the UNC-Chapel Hill dashboard, there have been 324 total COVID-19 cases since February.

But the dashboard statistics can be inaccurate because the testing data comes from multiple sources.

“There certainly could be individuals who get tested over the weekend back home, they come back to Chapel Hill, they get a test result, they never tell us,” Campus Health Executive Director Ken Pittman told The Daily Tar Heel last Thursday. “And so that could be someone that potentially would not be included in our numbers. Obviously, we can only report what we know about.”

Pittman said the University’s COVID-19 testing is only available for students and postdoctoral fellows who have access to Campus Health. Other students, faculty and staff get their tests from external facilities. These results would have to be self-reported or received from other entities such as the Orange County Health Department or UNC Hospitals.

In addition to case numbers, the UNC-Chapel Hill dashboard displays the status of protective supplies and the on-campus isolation and quarantine spaces. In an interview with the DTH Friday, Provost Bob Blouin said the University would use this data in off-ramp considerations.

“We’ve been very careful not to identify a single metric that would be the metric that would cause us to want to take an off-ramp,” Blouin said.

The UNC System has its own tracking system for daily COVID-19 data from its constituent institutions, including UNC-Chapel Hill.

Other UNC System schools

UNC-Chapel Hill was the first of the 17 schools in the UNC System to begin classes and roll back its fall reopening plan. 

Aside from UNC-Chapel Hill, all other UNC System schools will proceed with reopening as planned following guidance from UNC System President Peter Hans.

“The decision to adapt operations applies to UNC-Chapel Hill only, because no other UNC System institution has reported information, at this time, that would lead to similar modifications,” the statement reads.

UNC-Chapel Hill has a total enrollment around 30,000 students. The other System schools with similar enrollments are: North Carolina State University, East Carolina University and UNC-Charlotte. 

Both N.C. State and ECU began fall classes on the same day as UNC.

N.C. State University updated the data provided on its COVID-19 testing and tracking page Tuesday, including a daily new positive cases count of 28. UNC-Chapel Hill does not provide daily data, citing the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

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Eight individuals in the fraternity and sorority community tested positive for COVID-19, all of whom self-reported, according to the N.C. State campus newspaper Technician. N.C. State also reported additional clusters Wednesday at two sorority houses.

UNC does not report the number of cases in each cluster, also citing FERPA.

While the daily case count reported by N.C. State includes data from multiple sources, the weekly and cumulative data only includes tests conducted by the school’s Student Health Services. 

On Monday night, ECU reported a cluster of COVID-19 cases in its Gateway-West Residence Hall. Similar to UNC, ECU reports weekly data and does not provide details of individual positive cases. ECU reported 29 new positive student tests last week. 

The data in ECU’s dashboard is only from tests conducted by Student Health Services.

“ECU’s administration is committed to the safety of its students and the campus community and is taking all of the available information into account to guide decisions on how best to achieve that,” ECU Chief Communications Officer Jeannine Hutson wrote in a statement to the DTH. “We continue to work with the UNC System on this.”

N.C. State’s COVID-19 positivity rate for students last week was 7.69 percent and ECU’s was 7.8 percent, both just above half of UNC’s 13.6 percent positivity rate last week.

UNC-Charlotte’s classes begin on Sept. 7. The school has reported four total cases within the past weeks.

In a notice sent Monday after UNC-Chapel Hill's announcement, UNC-Charlotte said it would allow students to cancel their housing with no penalty until Aug. 21. UNC-Charlotte will also use daily “Niner Health Checks” to monitor COVID-19 cases and exposure on campus.

Statewide, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services reported 147,932 cases Wednesday. The Orange County coronavirus data show 1,562 total COVID-19 cases and 49 deaths since mid-March. The Orange County Health Department has been in communication with UNC-Chapel Hill leaders as the University’s reopening plan has been implemented.