COVID-19 Update: COVID Prevention and Close Contact Tracing Reminders

Two women wearing masks and working on their laptop computers.
Tar Heel Beginnings board members chat in between campus tours that start in the Pit on August 13, 2021, on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Tar Heel Beginnings is a division within the New Student and Family Programs. (Johnny Andrews/UNC-Chapel Hill)

Dear Tar Heels,

Our fall semester is off and running.  Thank you for all of your work to uphold our COVID-19 Community Standards. I see your commitment to keeping yourselves and your community safe, and I applaud your resilience and adaptability to help us have a successful semester on campus.

Concerns About Delta Variant; Medical Advisors Stress that Masks and Vaccines Work
Consistent with the spread of the Delta variant across the globe, we do have COVID-19 cases on campus, which we expected. We have been hearing an increased number of concerns from students about the highly transmissible nature of the Delta variant, and we acknowledge the stress the uncertainty of the variant continues to present. However, our expert medical advisors — all top UNC doctors in their field — continue to remind us about the strong level of protection afforded by a combination of vaccinations and masking. If you are vaccinated and diligent about wearing your mask, it is very unlikely that you will contract the virus in settings like classrooms, appointments with your faculty or academic advisors, student organization meetings, and so on. 

The greatest likelihood of contracting the virus occurs when you are unmasked, especially indoors and in crowded outdoor settings. So please be especially cautious whenever you are eating or socializing unmasked, even outdoors. Our contact tracing efforts confirm that these off-campus, social activities in the community are the source of the majority of positive cases for both students and employees.

We know some of you have questions about what to do if you think you were exposed or if you have been identified as a close contact. There are many variables that can make it complicated, but here is a brief summary of our approach to managing this process.

You Must Report a Positive Test and Comply with Contact Tracing
As a UNC-Chapel Hill student, you are required to comply with the COVID-19 Community Standards, which includes immediately reporting a positive test to Campus Health, participating in COVID-19 contact tracing, and taking appropriate follow-up steps as directed by health officials, such as entering isolation or taking a COVID-19 test.

What’s A Close Contact
A close contact is someone who has been within six feet of a known positive for more than 15 minutes cumulative time, regardless of whether a face mask was worn by either party.  Additionally, roommates are generally considered close contacts. Important note: If you are not contacted by a contact tracer, or if a positive case is not in your household, then you are not identified as 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.

Contact Tracing Process
If someone receives a positive test, contact tracers reach out to them to determine who in their circle may be a close contact. The positive person’s name and information remains confidential. In most cases, vaccinated close contacts do not need to quarantine unless directed to do so by a contact tracer or medical provider based on their specific situation. All unvaccinated close contacts will receive instructions related to quarantine and testing by the contact tracer.

Class Absences
For absences related to undiagnosed COVID-19 symptoms or other minor illnesses, students should first work with their individual faculty members. Students who are directed to quarantine or isolate by a medical provider or health department will receive a University Approved Absence (UAA). For more information, please visit the University Approved Absence Office website. Faculty have been asked to show flexibility in making arrangements for make-up work and exams for these and other student absence related needs.

For more information, check out the Campus Health COVID-19 Details and FAQs site and this blog post by UNC Healthy Heels. As always, thanks for keeping our Tar Heel family safe and well!


Amy Johnson
Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs