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UNC medical director elaborates on vaccine requirement decision for fall semester

UNC's first on-campus vaccine clinic opens Wednesday
UNC pharmacists prepare a vaccine dose in the former Wendy’s in the Student Union on March 31, 2021. As North Carolina began to allow college students to receive coronavirus vaccines, UNC opened a clinic on campus where students can receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

On May 28, the Carolina Together Testing Team announced that fully vaccinated students will not be required to participate in asymptotic COVID-19 testing in the fall. 

However, students who are unvaccinated or who choose to not respond will still be required to participate in the Carolina Together Testing Program.

The decision 

Dr. Amir Barzin, the medical director of the Family Medicine Center & UNC Urgent Care at the Family Medicine Center, said UNC made the decision based on CDC recommendations. 

He said that during the spring semester, UNC started a testing program to keep the campus as safe as possible when vaccinations were unavailable and transmission rates were increasing. 

The program ran over 180,000 tests with a 0.27 percent positivity rate, Barzin said.

"I think one of the things that it showed us was that testing helps kind of stop the spread of fast disease outbreaks when you have a large number of people living in a location like a college campus," he said.

Towards the end of the spring semester, Barzin said the positivity rates were dropping quite low to the point where there would only be one positive case per week. 

He said as the University prepares for the summer and fall, it has continued to use the same logic and look at the guidance and guidelines available. The CDC does not recommend mandatory testing of asymptomatic individuals. 

"That's one of the reasons why we support not doing regular asymptomatic testing for vaccinated individuals," he said. "We are doing that in conjunction with other groups as well and looking for best practices and guidelines for institutes of higher education."

He explained that UNC is trying to stay as current as possible with the recommended guidelines to understanding where the prevalence of disease rates could be highest. 

Across the country, Barzin said positivity is most prevalent in the unvaccinated population. That is how they decided to exclude vaccinated individuals from the testing program for the fall semester.

Community reaction

Although vaccinated students will not be required to participate in mandatory testing during the semester, the testing program is open to anyone who wants to get tested voluntarily.

UNC sophomore Sophia Sherali said she would like to voluntarily get tested at least once a month to feel safe.

"Looking from a numeric standpoint I understand why they're not required because with the vaccine the percentage of getting COVID is significantly lower," she said. "But I think I'm in the minority who would actively seek out testing to make sure I don’t have COVID which kinda makes me nervous."

UNC students can go to ConnectCarolina and update their vaccination status. Once students attest to being vaccinated they will be excluded from the testing program. There is also an option for people who prefer not to disclose, and they will be involved in the testing program.

"We're going to look at the number of students that are unvaccinated, look at what is a reasonable cadence based off of best recommendations," Barzin said. "So we're still trying to formulate the best response in terms of the correct cadence as to how many times a week students would be tested."

Emma Brown, a sophomore, said she believes it also serves as a good incentive for other students to get vaccinated.

"I am vaccinated, so for me personally I am happy that I don't need to participate in the same asymptotic testing as last semester," she said. "I'm still nervous for the University as a whole though since the vaccine is not required."

Barzin said he has been involved in COVID response since the beginning of the pandemic. He said that one of the things that they’ve learned is that they must watch, wait, learn and adapt as fast as possible. They are continuing to develop guidance based on the best recommendations that are out there. 

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He thinks that coming soon, they’ll have a better understanding of what the community standards will look like for requirements such as masking.

"I've been like a proud father, to be quite honest with you," he said. "When I see what the response was on our campus, this past semester is truly awesome to watch everyone come together and do the best they can to keep the campus community safe."