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Students rush Franklin Street despite COVID-19 risks

Students rush Franklin Street after the Tar Heels defeat the Blue Devils despite COVID-19 restrictions.

Normally, students rushing Franklin Street would be a celebration — a relief, even.

But 2021 is not a normal year. 

Ahead of in-person classes beginning on Monday, hundreds of students rushed to the intersection of Franklin Street and Columbia Street following UNC basketball's 91-87 win over Duke, eventually lighting a fire and leaving the street littered with foam from a crowd-surfing mattress.

Despite warnings from the University not to rush, students were able to gather on Franklin Street for about 45 minutes before Chapel Hill Police dispersed the group.

Since June, North Carolina and Orange County residents have been required to wear face coverings in indoor and outdoor settings. Some students rushing wore masks, but many did not. 

Alton Grossman, a senior studying business, came to Franklin Street with five of his housemates. The group hung back from the center of the action.

"We wanted to come here but we didn't really want to enter the crowd because that doesn't really seem COVID safe," Grossman said. "We all live together."

Hannah DeNuzzi, a senior studying global studies and peace, war and defense, was a member of Grossman's group. She said they had double-masked for a reason: despite their excitement about the game, they were still afraid of the virus. 

Grossman said he was excited as any student to see UNC's basketball team pull it together, but he and his group were not coming any closer to the crowd.

"This is as close as we want to be," Grossman said. "We want to stay six feet away from people who aren't in our group."

At 8:50 p.m., 35 minutes after the game ended, Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz tweeted about the crowd.

"I know many Tar Heels enjoy rushing Franklin Street to celebrate a big win, but we are in the middle of a global pandemic, and COVID doesn’t take a break for the Duke game," Guskiewicz tweeted. "We will investigate this incident and work with local authorities to pursue consequences."

Ran Northam, the interim communication manager for the Town of Chapel Hill, said the crowd would be reviewed in the coming days as any other possible COVID-19 violation by Town and University officials.

"Officers did ask those in attendance to make their way home safely, so we're glad to see they've done so now, and hope everyone has a safe rest of their evening," Northam said.

Denuzzi said she was excited to see her final rivalry game as a UNC student end in a win, but that didn't erase her fear about this event's possible implications. 

"Obviously it's a big moment, and we all want to be here emotionally, but it just — it is what it is, you know," Denuzzi said. "We're trying to do it the right way while still sort of taking part in what's happening. Who knows if it's safe for everybody. Obviously not for them, but who knows if it's even safe for us."

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