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The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill became the first major college to switch to online classes after reopening in person.  Students had only been on campus for one week.  Classes started in person on August 10th and has reported at least four clusters of outbreaks of COVID-19 in student living spaces.  As of today, all undergraduate courses went remote.  The reported 130 student cases in the past week. While many students had already moved into residential halls, they are now likely to move out.

UNC is one of the first and largest universities to bring students back to school for in-person classes.  “As much as we believe we have worked diligently to help create a healthy and safe campus living and learning environment, we believe the current data presents an untenable situation,” wrote the university’s chancellor, Devin Guskiewicz, and its’ provost, Robert Blouin, in a message to the campus.  “The health and safety of our campus community are paramount.”

Many universities have canceled or modified their plans on bringing students back to campus for the fall semester.  Hundreds are still planning to reopen in person, citing reasons that rance from students’ wishes to their educational mission to the university’s financial situation.

The road to reopening had been long and rocky for North Carolina’s flagship university. Local county health officials had advised in July that the university start the semester with online instruction and that student housing be limited to those most in need.

Guskiewicz said he met with local health officials about the university’s plans and the campus made progress in complying with the county’s general recommendations. But the UNC system, whose board of governors is elected by North Carolina lawmakers, had decided that all its universities would open for in-person classes for the fall semester. 

“Soon after, I discussed this matter with the UNC System and we were advised by the UNC System to stay the course with our current plan,” Guskiewicz said in a statement.

A collection of staff and faculty groups has sued the University of North Carolina system over what they say are unsafe working conditions.

A group of faculty members also wrote an open letter that ran in The Charlotte Observer, asking undergraduates to stay home “in order to protect yourselves and your fellow students, your teachers, the many workers who serve you on campus, the residents of Chapel Hill and Carrboro, and your own family members and loved ones.” Other universities with early reopening dates have also started to report COVID-19 cases.