Messages

COVID-19 Update: In-person instruction and contact tracing

woman sitting outside on campus.
A student stays dry at the top of the steps of Wilson Library as it rains on August 17, 2021, on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. (Johnny Andrews/UNC-Chapel Hill)

Dear Carolina Community,

Today we are sharing important information on what happens when there is a positive COVID-19 case for one of our faculty, staff or students. As we have seen with this virus, it is not possible to prevent all cases from occurring on our campus, however, we have the right plans in place to help limit the spread through vaccinations, masks, regular testing and contact tracing.

The very best way to protect yourself is to greatly reduce your risk by being vaccinated and wearing a mask indoors. When you are vaccinated and wear your mask, you greatly reduce the chance of infection and if you do test positive, the vaccine is highly effective at reducing the severity of the illness.

Below, you will find more information on our in-person instruction guidance and policy, how students and employees are notified of exposures through the contact tracing process, what defines a close contact and how exposures should be communicated. This is detailed, important information that will guide our faculty and staff for this semester, so please take a moment to read this email.

In-person Instruction

This semester we have returned to an in-person learning experience. Our faculty know that they cannot otherwise change a class’s mode of instruction for the semester from in-person to remote without formal accommodation through the Equal Opportunity and Compliance Office (EOC). Requests to temporarily move a class online short-term must be approved by the department chair and the Dean’s Office.

During the semester, we know there may be a few instances where an instructor needs to temporarily move a class to remote learning due to unforeseen circumstances. Faculty and graduate students who lead classes may face circumstances that prevent them from teaching in person, such as, but not limited to, having a household member that requires caretaking due to quarantine or illness, so we know this may be necessary. We anticipate such occasions as being few in number as well as short in duration.

Contact Tracing

Carolina continues to work in close collaboration with the Orange County Health Department (OCHD) on contact tracing. Campus Health, EHS and OCHD are continuing to follow the CDC definition of a close contact. If anyone — faculty, staff or student — is considered to be a close contact of someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, they will be individually contacted as part of the tracing process.

Continuing the process the University has been following since March 2020, schools and departments will not be providing notifications about individual positive cases or close contact exposure of COVID-19. These notifications are handled by teams of dedicated Carolina and Orange County public health staff who have been performing contact tracing since last year, and it is important we allow these dedicated individuals to continue their exemplary work.

For faculty and staff, you will be contacted by the University Employee Occupational Health Clinic (UEOHC). If the contact occurred off-campus, you will be contacted by the Orange County Health Department or your local health department. Students are contacted on-campus by Campus Health and off-campus by OCHD.

If you are not contacted or if a positive case is not in your household, then you are not considered a close contact. For example, people who are at least six feet apart in a classroom or group setting will typically not be considered a close contact. For more information, you can visit the Carolina Together webpage, the Campus Health webpage or the EHS webpage.

School or Department Communications

If you become aware of a positive COVID-19 case or infection, there are limited circumstances where it will be appropriate to share that personal health information with others. Since last fall, Carolina has been clear how positive cases of COVID-19 are communicated and this information has been posted on the Carolina Together website:

“Consistent with the State Human Resources Act and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, as well as other privacy considerations, schools, departments and units should not communicate about COVID-19 positive cases broadly to their populations. Individuals who have been potentially exposed to the positive case will be notified through the University’s contact tracing procedures, making broad communications unnecessary.”

In some circumstances this fall, it will be appropriate for communications to be sent about specific campus populations and in those cases, decisions will be made based upon approved guidelines and in careful consultation with Campus Health, EHS, OCHD and the affected schools, departments and units.

Communicating with Students

As with any health concern, communications with students or your colleagues about individual health information are personal and private. All of us are bound by the same state and federal laws from sharing this information widely.

Campus Health and Student Affairs encourage students who test positive for COVID-19 to reach out to their instructors to alert them of their absence or make accommodations to make up the work. Students may choose not to disclose if they have tested positive since this is confidential health information, but if they do, please keep that information private and be discrete.

In addition, students who test positive for COVID-19 will be approved for a University Approved Absence. For all other illnesses when students are experiencing symptoms and absences due to quarantine or isolation, remember that faculty have the flexibility to work with students, and we strongly encourage you to exercise this flexibility in all cases.

Again, if anyone in your class is identified as a close contact, the notification and information sharing about next steps will happen via Campus Health, EHS or OCHD. If you have additional concerns, please speak with your department chair or supervisor.

 

Together we can do this

This fall, together we have made the decision that all students, faculty and staff will either be vaccinated or will be tested regularly, and masks will be worn at all times while indoors. We are tracking our progress on the Carolina Together dashboard, which currently shows 88% of students and 81% of employees have attested they are vaccinated.

The Carolina community is demonstrating how our commitment to each other and to our COVID-19 Community Standards can provide for the overall well-being of our campus. We must continue to do all that we can to create and support a safe residential campus experience.

Robert A. Blouin
Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost

Amir Barzin
Director and Lead Physician, Carolina Together Testing Program