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Once rampant at N.C. colleges, COVID-19 has become less of a threat

Once rampant at N.C. colleges, COVID-19 has become less of a threat

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RALEIGH — There was no doubt that universities would see hundreds of COVID-19 cases among students and employees in the spring semester. But campuses haven’t so far seen the drastic spikes in daily case counts or large clusters — even after students rushed Franklin Street after UNC beat Duke, threw large off-campus parties and started in-person classes.

Though some campuses are reporting COVID-19 case numbers similar to or higher than last fall, those cases aren’t spreading as rapidly or widely among students.

A little over a month into the spring semester, here’s a look at coronavirus cases across the state’s universities.



Since January, UNC has reported 610 students and 153 employees have tested positive, according to the university’s COVID-19 dashboard.

About a month into the fall semester, the school reported nearly 1,000 cases among students and employees and 13 clusters after canceling in-person classes and closing dorms.

“Campus health was somewhat overwhelmed at the start of the fall,” UNC Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz said. “We realized that it didn’t need to be that way.”

Guskiewicz said they knew there would be cases on campus this spring, but testing has been key to stopping the spread of the respiratory disease.

“We’re able to identify cases sooner and to mitigate the spread of the virus, and we’ve seen very few clusters,” Guskiewicz said. “In addition to that, it’s given our campus community confidence, and that was going to be important to start the semester.”

For the spring semester, UNC required entry testing for students and set up three sites around campus and its own testing lab to do mass asymptomatic testing of students and employees.

UNC tests all undergraduate students living on campus and in Chapel Hill or Carrboro at least once a week, which is about 14,000 tests weekly.

“So that’s the difference, I think, in being able to control the vast spread of this,” said Dr. Amir Barzin, a family medicine physician at the UNC School of Medicine.

N.C. State

Since Jan. 1, 996 students and 297 employees tested positive for COVID-19, which includes results from campus and local testing sites and reentry testing.

Last month, the university reported a few spikes of 50 or more new daily cases, with the highest daily count among students at 62 new cases on Feb. 5.

School officials says those spikes are likely related to testing loads on those days, which are typically right before the weekend.

N.C. State hasn’t had more than two dozen students in isolation or quarantine on campus in the past 10 days. About 40 beds on campus are being used, which is 13% of the total capacity.

Off-campus, however, as many as 113 students were in isolation and more than 200 students in quarantine at one time.

That’s a fairly small number compared to August when nearly 1,000 students were in isolation or quarantine at one time.

“We’re really not seeing spreading,” said Julie Casani, the school’s director and medical director of Student Health Services.



Duke has seen more cases in the first few weeks of the spring semester than it did overall last fall, but the university is still on track to keep students on campus.

The Durham university was praised for its COVID-19 testing program last fall, which included entry testing and mass testing of asymptomatic students and employees. It kept positive cases relatively low and managed the spread to keep students living on campus and attending in-person classes.

So far, 263 students and 134 employees have tested positive since Jan. 3, according to Duke’s COVID-19 dashboard.

Duke saw a spike in cases at the beginning of January and campus administrators were concerned. In early February, Duke issued a warning to students threatening to move all classes online and consigning them to their apartments or rooms.

Since then, the numbers have fallen.



N.C. Central University was one of the few schools in the state that kept dorms and classrooms open last fall.

The historically Black institution in Durham tested all students when they returned to campus this spring, and the university has done surveillance testing of students throughout the semester.

Since January, 75 students, 24 employees and six subcontractors have tested positive, according to the school.



Last fall, East Carolina didn’t require testing for all students who were back in Greenville, and the school mostly just tested students with symptoms. When cases spiked in August, the university was forced to move classes online and told students to move out of dorms.

That changed this spring. ECU required entry testing for all students living on campus and is doing surveillance testing each week throughout the semester.

There were a few spikes in coronavirus cases in late January, with a high of 38 new daily student cases, but there’s been a steady decline since then.



Last fall, Appalachian State faced pressure to move classes online and close dorms after cases spiked, 25 clusters were reported and a student died from COVID-19. But the university never made the switch.

This spring, the school required residential students to get tested before coming to campus and is doing mandatory surveillance testing of athletes, residential students and other students.

Appalachian State reported two clusters on campus and 321 cases among students and 27 among employees since Jan. 1, according to university data.

That data also shows new daily cases are still on the rise in Boone.

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