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Finger-pointing continues, COVID-19 clusters grow at UNC campuses

11 N2007P46002CUniversity of North Carolina leaders, students and faculty are blaming each other for the growing number of COVID-19 cases on campuses.

But it’s unclear where the fault lies. Plenty of fingers were pointed at the UNC System, who left the blueprints for reopening with campus officials. Others blame the campus leaders for trying to squeeze too many people — socially active young adults — into confined spaces with inadequate safeguards. Some university leaders blamed students for holding large parties.

Or perhaps the confusion was inevitable as tens of thousands of students, faculty and staff members tried to reopen bustling campuses as a pandemic rages.

As of Monday, Aug. 24, four UNC campuses had scrapped plans to open the school year with some in-person instruction. Other schools in the system may follow.

Weeks after moving into campus housing, thousands of students at UNC-Chapel Hill, N.C. State University and East Carolina University are packing their bags and heading home, while UNC-Charlotte students, originally set to arrive on campus in early September, have seen their move-in date pushed back several weeks.

UNC-Chapel Hill and N.C. State announced the switch to remote learning last week after a handful of COVID-19 clusters were identified in residence halls.

“The decision to switch to remote instruction was made in consultation with state and local health officials, Carolina’s infectious disease experts, and the UNC System,” UNC-Chapel Hill’s media officials told Carolina Journal.
The campuses appear to be calling the shots.

Carolina Journal sent questions to the UNC System to clarify the roles the system and the UNC Board of Governors had when deciding how campuses would operate.

Did the UNC-Chapel Hill and N.C. State chancellors have to get permission from the UNC BOG or UNC system to move all undergraduate courses online? Did the UNC system prohibit universities from starting the fall semester with remote instruction only? Did the UNC system require universities to have full capacity in on-campus housing?

“Any decision to modify campus operations will be made by the president, with each chancellor, in consultation with the leadership of both boards of trustees and the board of governors, and always grounded in reliable public health data and prevailing local health conditions,” Josh Ellis, associate vice president for media relations at the UNC System, told CJ in an email.

Marty Kotis, a BOG member, told CJ last week the system’s board has taken some unwarranted heat.

“We are blamed for [students] going back to school, we are blamed for [universities] closing,” Kotis said. “But there has been no BOG vote on either one of those issues. We didn’t vote for how they will reopen, or if they’re to reopen.”
But Kotis thinks the board should get more involved.

He offered four recommendations for UNC schools:
Conduct more frequent testing of the entire student population, faculty, and staff, especially for high risk populations.
Develop a contact tracing app that respects privacy but helps officials keep track of infections on campus.
Create a data dashboard to track COVID-19 on campuses compared to the general population.
Reconsider charging students fees for services and amenities they can’t enjoy while off-campus.

Earlier this month, the board rejected proposals to refund tuition or fees.

Meantime, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services issued updated guidance on Friday, Aug. 21, for higher education institutions.

It included limiting on-campus housing, expanding the space between students and instructors in classrooms and banning large social gatherings as well as enforcing a mandate to wear masks. Closing game rooms, laundry facilities and lounges in dormitories and other communal settings. Closing or reducing the capacity of communal dining halls. Setting aside more space to quarantine students who tested positive for COVID-19 or who were exposed to others who are infected.

Early lessons point to the virus spreading in communal living settings and social gatherings on and off campus, as well as with athletic teams, the updated guidance reads.

“Since the pandemic began, we have listened to and collaborated with leading public health officials while closely monitoring changing conditions across the state,” UNC System President Peter Hans said in response to the updated guidance.

“We will continue to do so because health and safety is our priority.”

On Monday, East Carolina reported new clusters at two dormitories, The News & Observer reported.

Emergency crews receive funds for new defibrillators

10 Fayetteville fire enginesThe Fayetteville Fire Department is equipping its fire engines and rescue vehicles with 60 automated external defibrillators. Each new AED costs $2,500. The department received a federal grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for $137,000 to purchase the equipment. The city’s cooperative share is $13,700. The new AEDs will replace old ones that are carried on all fire department vehicles.

“In the past five years, Fayetteville firefighters responded to nearly 2,000 cardiac arrest calls,” said Fire Chief Mike Hill. “An AED provides the greatest chance of survival from sudden cardiac arrest and is the only effective tool for certain dysrhythmias.”

According to the American Heart Association, early CPR and defibrillation can more than double a victim’s chance of survival. Since 2002, the Fayetteville Fire Department has won more than $1 million from the program, which was established after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Remote schooling is underway at Fort Bragg

09 Fort Bragg SchoolThe U.S. Department of Defense Education Activity operates nine schools at Fort Bragg, serving students living on post in grades pre-K through 8. Students in grades 9 – 12, and those living off post, attend local county schools. Fort Bragg schools have a combined enrollment of about 5,000 students. Since Aug. 24, classes have been conducted remotely. When virus trends improve, the schools should start shifting students back to in-person classes. Parents who opted to enroll their children in the Virtual Academy administered by the Defense Department will continue online learning when other students head back to the classroom. Since learning from home has become the new normal for students, officials want to make sure they receive nutritionally balanced meals. “We try to promote a recipe that they would enjoy,” said Veronica Lee, Fort Bragg’s nutrition clerk. Three drive-thru feeding sites are providing both breakfast and lunch for all students up to age 18. According to foodservice staff, that equates to about 2,700 meals a day and nearly 19,000 meals a week.

City helps fund the Dogwood Festival

08 Dogwood Festival CrowdDogwood Festival officials asked the city of Fayetteville to give it $50,000 and forgive $1,000 in rent to allow the organization to continue to put on shows. City Council formally declined the request Aug. 24 but agreed to pay the organization $27,000 in previously budgeted funds. The city also said it would forgive $1,000 in Festival Park rental fees. Council agreed to a staff recommendation to spend $15,000 the city had budgeted last fiscal year that was never allocated to the festival, as well as another $12,000 it was planning to contribute to the organization this fiscal year. City funds will be donated only if a festival takes place held sometime in the coming year. The Dogwood Festival was canceled earlier because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Skate Park is open

07 hello i m nik dq7K3BywKOI unsplashFayetteville’s first skate park has been completed at Rowan Street Park. The skateboard park was built where the hillside amphitheater used to be. Voters approved a $35 million parks and recreation bond referendum in 2016, and about $1 million of it was devoted to this facility. Team Pain Skate Park Design & Construction of Winter Springs, Florida, built the park with an in-ground concrete design to cater to both novice and advanced skaters. The park features banks, ledges and humps. It has a concrete bowl for skaters to ride rapidly up and down to do tricks. There also is a large street skate area with ramps and fixtures to simulate skateboarding on public streets. The facility provides for open skating plus lessons, exhibitions and team competition.


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