RALEIGH — N.C. State became North Carolina's second public university to move all of its classes online.
The state's largest university announced Thursday that all in-person and hybrid undergraduate courses will be taught online starting Monday.
Chancellor Randy Woodson said in a message to the N.C. State community that large parties at off-campus apartments contributed to a sudden rise in COVID-19 cases among students and the decision to end in-person instruction this semester.
N.C. State reported 41 new cases among students Wednesday. That number represents nearly 20 percent of all the COVID-19 cases contracted by N.C. State employees and students since March.
In addition, the university since Tuesday has reported five clusters of COVID-19 cases — two at sorority houses, one at a fraternity house and two connected to off-campus residences. A cluster is five or more cases reported among people who live in close proximity. Woodson said the university is investigating other potential off-campus clusters.
As of Thursday, more than 500 N.C. State students — including residents of seven fraternity and sorority houses — were in quarantine because they have been in close contact recently with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. Most of the quarantined students live off campus.
"Battling the spread of COVID-19 is a challenging endeavor even when everyone is practicing safety measures," Woodson wrote. "Unfortunately, the actions of a few are jeopardizing the health and safety of the larger community."
UNC-Chapel Hill was the first UNC System school to change its fall semester plans. The university announced Monday that all undergraduate instruction would move online effective Wednesday.
At N.C. State, graduate and clinical classes can continue to meet in-person and in hybrid formats. The university's research labs will remain open.
The university also said it plans to keep open its residence halls, dining halls and student center.
"We understand how important it is for many of our students, and their families, to have the benefits of an on-campus experience, even at this time of reduced operations," Woodson said Thursday. "For our residential students who want to continue living on campus and receiving the support it provides, you are welcome to stay — we are not closing on-campus housing."
Students who choose to move out of their dorm rooms will get prorated housing and dining refunds, the chancellor said. N.C. State started fall semester classes Aug. 10.
"To be clear," Woodson said, "N.C. State will remain open; it will just look different next week than it does today.
"We understand that these changes may be frustrating for some and a relief for others. Know that the top priority in every decision that we’ve made — and the ones we’ll make in the future — is to keep our community safe and well."
UNC System President Peter Hans issued a statement Thursday in which he also blamed a small number of students "behaving irresponsibly" for the decision to end in-person undergraduate instruction this semester at the state's two largest universities.
"Over the spring and summer, every institution prepared for the fall semester under the guidance of well-known public health officials," he said. "The planning reflected the fact that each university in the system is different — with diverse student populations, geographical locations, and varied social cultures. This hard work is being undermined by a very small number of students behaving irresponsibly off campus, which unfairly punishes the vast majority of their classmates who are following the rules.
"Since my arrival on Aug. 1, I’ve worked closely with each chancellor to support their efforts and to make adjustments based on local health conditions. We’ll continue to provide a high-quality mix of online and in-person educational options as the entire nation strives to manage its way through a lengthy global pandemic to a better and safer place for everyone."
Contact John Newsom at (336) 373-7312 and follow @JohnNewsomNR on Twitter.