By Feb.10, almost all UNC classes will have resumed in-person instruction, a requirement the University announced in a campuswide email on Jan. 27.
Although North Carolina’s infection rates are indeed down after the holiday season, the omicron variant remains a threat to many students who are immunocompromised, high-risk or interact with people at risk, like children who still cannot get vaccinated.
Many classes can still be attended remotely, but students viewing the livestreams will be unable to engage in discussions or ask questions. As a result, many people who would rather not attend in person will feel forced to do so.
If the administration is going to take unilateral action like this, it should also ready classrooms by providing N95 masks to all students. Public health experts have noted the increased transmissibility of the omicron variant, and research has shown that cloth masks are not very effective in preventing its spread. While surgical masks are better than nothing, the rigorously tested N95, KN95 and KF94 masks are far more effective at protecting at-risk students and their loved ones.
But instead of providing N95 and other standardized masks, UNC has made it more difficult for students to acquire them. While the Black Student Movement and Student Government independently acquired masks to distribute to students, the University does not allow for the use of any University funds to acquire more masks.
This ban extends to student-controlled fees like those traditionally controlled by students, including Student Government.
Instead, UNC has a centralized program where faculty and staff — but not students — can request community protective equipment, like masks and hand sanitizer, through designated CPE coordinators. The purchases are made using state and federal funds the University has access to for community protective equipment, rather than University funds.
Each coordinator is responsible for one of the various programs or buildings on campus. To find the CPE coordinator for your classes, workplace or program, log in to UNC's website to view the list.
This program’s flaw is that it fails to meet students’ needs and bars students from taking matters into their own hands. N95 and other recommended masks are considered “enhanced” CPE that coordinators have to make a special request for.