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University enters fall semester with loosened COVID-19 policies


A mask lies in a puddle in front of the Student Stores Building in January.

As the University begins its first completely mask-free semester since spring 2020, UNC announced modifications to its COVID-19 policies in a campus-wide email July 29. 

The University will no longer require unvaccinated asymptomatic individuals to test regularly and will no longer provide voluntary asymptomatic testing. 

Kayla Vanhoy, a senior studying radiologic science and an intern at UNC Hospitals, said while she understands the University’s actions, she thinks the loss of voluntary testing does “more harm than good.”

“Having asymptomatic testing for anyone who wanted it on campus was reassuring to a lot of people,” Vanhoy said. 

Masks continue to be required on public transit and in all health care settings, including UNC Health and Campus Health.

Audrey Pettifor, a professor in the department of epidemiology in the Gillings School of Global Public Health, said while masks are no longer required, those worried about the pandemic should consider wearing one in high-risk situations. 

“Wearing a well-fitted mask will protect you, even if folks around you aren’t wearing it. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than nothing,” she said. 

Pettifor said students and community members should anticipate a rise in COVID-19 cases on campus at the beginning of the semester, though the data may be less accurate considering the loss of voluntary on-campus testing and the increase of unreported at-home testing.

Symptomatic testing for students will continue to be provided at Campus Health. The former testing centers in the Rams Head Recreation Center and the Student Union will no longer be in operation. At-home test kits are available on campus at the Student Stores Pharmacy and Campus Health and typically in the vending machines in both Rams Head and the Student Union.

Positive results from off-campus testing and at-home testing must be reported to Campus Health, and any student who reports a positive test must isolate. 

Students living in residence halls can isolate at home or in their dorm room. More detailed isolation information can be found on the Campus Health website.

Pettifor said students should have a conversation with their roommates about comfort levels regarding the ongoing pandemic.

She added that although masks are encouraged but not required in the classroom, it’s important for students to be compassionate and understanding about the mask preferences of those around them.

“I don’t foresee this semester being really any different from spring semester,” Pettifor said.

Faculty and staff should get tested at their health care provider instead of Campus Health. They must report positive results through the COVID-19 Wellness Check  and should follow CDC guidelines on isolation and quarantine. 

In order to be excused from class due to COVID-19 isolation, students must now submit a request to the University Approved Absence Office. Positive tests conducted at Campus Health will automatically generate a University Approved Absence form. 

Pettifor said that although the long-term effects of COVID-19 are relatively unknown, an unpublished study from the Gillings School found that 20 percent of UNC students who have had COVID-19 have experienced symptoms that last a least one month, which she said is "significant."

The University is not requiring vaccine attestation or re-entry testing for the fall semester, though both are encouraged. 

COVID-19 vaccines and boosters are available on campus at no cost to students, staff, faculty and community members over the age of 12. Vaccines will continue to be available on a walk-in basis between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, at the Student Stores Pharmacy and Campus Health Pharmacy. 

The University said it continues to monitor conditions and is prepared to make changes to the COVID-19 standards if necessary. 

Justin Lessler, a professor of epidemiology at the Gillings School, said he thinks more combative policy changes are unlikely unless there is a major shift in the trajectory of the pandemic, such as an uptick in severe variants or a global increase in mortality reates. 

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 “The policies that are still in place are more of a risk mitigation approach rather than a control approach," he said.

Lessler said students and community members should see precautions as courtesies to peers rather than mandates.

"You don't know who people are going home to," he said. "When you see somebody wear a mask, maybe they're just being careful. Maybe they're going home to an elderly relative. Maybe they have a roommate who is immunodepressed." 

@irawilderphoto | @livvreilly