Orange County Health Department Update

Wilson Library
Scenes of a sparsely populated campus at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on April 25, 2020. The University began remote instruction for more than 95 percent of classes to help stop the spread of COVID-19. (Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

Dear Carolina Community,

I am writing to update you on a letter I received late last Wednesday night (July 29, 2020) from the Orange County Health Department (OCHD), my subsequent conversations to clarify the points made in that letter and specific actions we have taken that we believe address their concerns. It is important to note that we have had a very cooperative and collegial working relationship with the OCHD for many years, but especially over the past months with direct and weekly interactions between the OCHD and Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Bob Blouin and Vice Chancellor for Institutional Integrity and Risk Management George Battle.

In the letter, the OCHD “…recommends that the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill consider…” and offered two recommendations for consideration:

  1. “Restrict on campus housing to at-risk students with no access to equitable educational resources and those with true housing needs (i.e. International students, Carolina Covenant & marginalized students)”
  2. “Consider virtual classes for the entire Fall Semester but at minimum begin the first 5 weeks of the semester with online instruction only with plans to reassess the situation at the 5 week mark”

They also raised questions regarding testing capacity and transportation.

While the OCHD letter was not an order or a mandate for the University to take any specific action, as always, I took their recommendations very seriously and convened a meeting Thursday morning of our infectious disease and public health experts, as well as senior leaders on our Roadmap Implementation Team, just hours after receiving the letter. We reviewed their recommendations, and carefully analyzed our current status and the steps we were actively taking to de-densify our campus. We believe we have made significant progress towards aligning with the OCHD’s general recommendations and considerations.

  • We have increased the number of courses with hybrid capacity thereby limiting on-campus in-person classroom occupancy to only 30%.
  • We reduced our on-campus residential capacity to 64%.
  • We have worked closely with UNC Health Care to increase our testing capacity. We have a robust testing program consistent with the CDC’s guidelines for colleges and universities.
  • The Town of Chapel Hill and our regional transit partners have increased the frequency of routes and added additional vehicles to compensate for the reduced bus capacities. In addition, we have added bus capacity through Carolina Livery to supplement Chapel Hill Transit service.
  • We are offering increased daily on-campus parking options. Weeknight parking now begins earlier, at 4 p.m. in designated lots, and students are eligible for weeknight parking through reduced student fees. Employee and student permits are now virtual, and reduced pricing is available for commuters and teleworkers.

We had several immediate follow-up meetings. Early Thursday morning (July 30) Provost Blouin had a meeting with both the OCHD Health Director Quintana Stewart and the OCHD Medical Director Dr. Erica Pettigrew and briefly discussed the communication. On Friday I personally called Quintana and Erica separately to clarify the intent of their letter and we had a very constructive conversation. During the call, I updated them with our progress toward campus de-densification as well as other initiatives we are employing throughout our campus to create a safe learning and working environment. I also reiterated that we believe we are well prepared for the start of the Fall semester and we will continue to track trends that could lead us to recommend a modification to our plans. 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.

The University will continue to regularly advise and consult our partners at the OCHD as we navigate the days and weeks ahead.


Kevin M. Guskiewicz