If you’ve been on campus this week, you might have overheard about the potential for UNC to move classes online.
Whether this news comes from the concerned whispers of your fellow students or from the faculty-led petition for four to six weeks of virtual learning, you might be left confused about UNC’s stance on the issue.
Regardless, we can learn from UNC’s past mistakes and how certain policy decisions might make virtual learning inevitable this semester.
Perhaps most noticeable is the absence of a vaccine mandate at UNC. This approach – which has stood up in legal contests – is being adopted by other public universities, including Indiana University and the University of Virginia, which disenrolled over 200 students who did not comply with the mandate.
The UNC System advised its campuses, including UNC-Chapel Hill, that under state law only the North Carolina Commission for Public Health can mandate immunizations for college students, according to information on the Carolina Together website.
But at its core, the issue also involves transparency and communication between the administration faculty and students.
According to this Twitter thread by Noel Brewer, a distinguished professor at the Gillings School of Public Health, some of UNC’s new COVID-19 guidelines prevent important safety measures, such as instructors being made aware if a student in their class tests positive.
Brewer also points out how vagueness in these guidelines can impact their interpretation. How many COVID-19 symptoms warrant a professor’s absence? That decision seems to be up to the professor experiencing symptoms.
So what could have been done – and where do we go from here?
- UNC can provide comprehensive public health education, and places for students to learn more about the COVID-19 vaccines. Websites and emails encouraging vaccination aren’t always accessible or sought out by students. Instead, UNC should be hosting in-person spaces on campus where students can ask questions and get answers.
- Walk-in vaccine drives on campus could help increase the number of vaccinated students at UNC. If you are vaccinated already, you might remember how difficult it was to find a location and make an appointment. Since spring, vaccines have become more widely available, and some locations are no longer requiring appointments. While the Carolina Vaccination Clinic offers appointments and walk-ins, the burden most often falls on students to seek out the clinic and make an appointment.
- Lastly, if UNC is not going to require vaccines, they should incentivize them. North Carolina has taken a similar approach, offering admission into a million dollar lottery for newly vaccinated citizens. The University doesn’t need to make students millionaires to achieve similar results – subsidizing meal plans or entering students in merchandise giveaways could be enough to attract students. Although the University allows students to opt out of regular testing if they have attested that they are vaccinated, offering additional incentives for students could increase the campus vaccination rate.
Inaccessibility and hesitancy have proven to be two major barriers for people who are not yet vaccinated. UNC has the power to combat both. The University has a broad network of professionals and scholars in public health and epidemiology, as well as the resources to prioritize vaccine clinics on campus.
UNC is sitting on a wide bank of resources to help combat the pandemic, without having to shut the doors on in-person learning.
If it can be safely carried out, UNC should avoid falling back into virtual classes and repeating the mistakes of fall 2020. But most importantly, we must preserve the health of the Chapel Hill community. To do so, herd immunity is imperative, especially for young and immunocompromised individuals who can’t yet get vaccinated.
But with no robust off-ramp plan, the return to online classes is inevitable for UNC.
CLARIFICATION: A previous version of this article only stated one option for receiving the COVID-19 vaccine on campus and incorrectly stated how UNC is encouraging the vaccine among students. The story has been updated to state that walk-in appointments are also available, as well as the University making testing not required for students who have attested that they are vaccinated. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for this error.
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