Dear Carolina Community,
As we finish our first week of classes, I want to share some highlights and thank each one of you for your efforts to keep our community healthy and safe by following our COVID-19 Community Standards. Thank you to the many students, faculty and staff I’ve seen wearing a mask outdoors for going above and beyond the standards. We know that we can best fulfill our mission of teaching, research and service when we are together here on campus.
Over the past two weeks, our largest and most diverse incoming class in Carolina’s history joined us here in Chapel Hill. The Class of 2025 is composed of 19% first generation students, and represents 94 North Carolina counties, 46 states and 98 countries. I visited the residence halls to greet students and their families last week, and the genuine enthusiasm and palpable excitement have been contagious. We celebrated Convocation on Monday night for the Classes of 2024 and 2025, with Carolina alumnus and professor Bernard Bell delivering inspiring words of wisdom to our newest Tar Heels. Despite the rain, students gathered outdoors safely to celebrate the start of their Carolina journey. Watching students head to their classes on FDOC, I was struck by how far we have come since March 2020. At every moment this week, I have been reminded of the importance of the on-campus experience for our students.
I am proud of our students, faculty and staff who have responded so positively to our community’s goal to be a highly vaccinated campus. So many of you are answering that call — as of this afternoon, 88% of our students and 81% of our employees have attested they are vaccinated. If you are not yet vaccinated, now is the time to do so. The vaccines are safe, effective and free. They reduce the contagion period, as well as the severity and length of illness if you become infected. We are continuing to watch trends such as hospitalization rates, vaccination rates, and positivity rates across the state and in our community and we want to stay ahead of the curve wherever possible. At the recommendation of our public health team, we are adding another layer of protection by implementing testing twice a week for unvaccinated students to identify cases of the virus more quickly. This requirement will begin Monday, August 23.
We are following the guidance of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, Orange County Health Department and our renowned infectious disease experts. I know there have been some concerns about certain activities, such as the first sip at the Old Well, Sunset Serenade and athletic events. Let me be clear: we are consulting with our experts and health officials, as well as following state and local guidelines, as we make these decisions. This guidance has enabled us to safely offer these Carolina traditions, albeit with a modified approach. We know there will be infections on our campus and in the community, but we are following the right plans to help limit the spread. When you are vaccinated and wear your mask, you greatly reduce the chance of infection and if you do test positive, the vaccine reduces the severity of the illness.
Combined with the fact that Orange County has one of the highest vaccination rates in the state, I am confident we are in the best position possible today to manage COVID-19 related challenges this fall. We will dial our safety measures up or down as needed to help control the spread of the virus on campus and preserve our ability to learn and conduct our research in person. There will be risk, but together, the Carolina community is managing those risks and ensuring that our semester is as successful as this first week has been.
I want to close by thanking the many employees who have gone above and beyond in preparing our campus for the return of our students, faculty and staff. I recognize this is not easy for many people, and the efforts of our employees are greatly appreciated. Thanks to them, we are able to pursue UNC-Chapel Hill’s mission this fall in our classrooms, laboratories, athletic facilities and residential communities with a full Carolina experience.
Kevin M. Guskiewicz