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UNC aims to correct 'biggest error' from the fall with testing program, Blouin says

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Provost Bob Blouin addresses the Faculty Executive Committee at their virtually-held meeting on Monday, Dec. 14, 2020 where members discussed concerns among the UNC community regarding COVID-19 and the spring reopening.

Provost Bob Blouin said it would be difficult to send students back home a second time at the Faculty Executive Committee’s monthly meeting Monday afternoon. 

As UNC prepares to reopen next month, the committee held a lengthy discussion on the University’s plans for the spring semester. 

What happened? 

  • Blouin acknowledged that UNC’s spring reopening plan is a concern among professors. 
    • “We will be perpetually planning for the spring semester and beyond,” Blouin said. “We do know that things are changing in real time as we are planning.”
  • He said the COVID-19 testing lab facility in Genome Sciences Building will open by the second week of January at the latest.
  • Although UNC is using the PCR-based coronavirus testing method, Blouin said the University is looking for different testing options, noting that there are new methods on the market that can provide quicker results at a lower cost. 
    • “We are going to look at newer tests that offer promise,” he said. “While we’re standing up this PCR lab, we also will be evaluating some other tests that might make things even faster, more available, more accessible to our community. We think that will be a good thing for everyone.” 
  • Blouin said campus police are working with Chapel Hill police to ensure students are not violating state and local pandemic guidelines. He added that police scout the area three to four days out of the week. 
  • Any student found to be violating pandemic guidelines will have their names sent to the dean of students for disciplinary action. 
  • Blouin said one of the metrics that determines how the spring semester proceeds are case numbers in the Orange County area, as well as hospitalization rates at local hospitals. 
  • Blouin said one of the main reasons UNC switched remote in the fall is because there wasn’t a robust testing program. 
    • “I think if I were to acknowledge where we made perhaps our biggest error, it was in that,” Blouin said. “I think we have corrected that.” 
  • He added that once students return to campus, it will be hard to send them back home. 
    • “Once we have our students on our campus, I think it’s going to be very difficult to send them home,” Blouin said. “For all of the reasons, not just because of the chaos we experienced where we sent students back rather suddenly, I think we could do that much more gracefully in the spring if we were forced to do that.” 
  • For the spring term, Blouin said any class with more than 35 students will be remote. It depends on the willingness of the department and faculty member to teach a face-to-face class. 
    • “We have forced no one to teach a class in residence,” he said. 
  • As the coronavirus vaccine begins to be delivered, Blouin said he doesn’t anticipate mask mandates and social distancing guidelines at UNC to change over the course of the spring semester. He said UNC will likely impose a mask mandate next fall, but social distancing guidelines may be readjusted. 
    • “We'll wait to hear from the experts in terms of how things are going to evolve,” Blouin said. “I think we'll be in pretty good shape by the end of the summer, beginning of the fall and certainly by the end of next year.”
  • Audrey Pettifor, a professor and epidemiologist, said the risk of transmission in classrooms is low if everyone in the room is wearing a mask and adhering to pandemic guidelines, based on data collected from eight to 10 universities in Boston as well as Indiana University. 

What's next?

  • The Faculty Executive Committee will meet again for a regular meeting on Jan. 11. 


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