August 6, 2020
Dear Pam, Lydia, Jenn, and Penny,
Thank you for your email and sharing your concerns. I am also grateful for the opportunity Provost Blouin had to discuss our Roadmap and public health communications with both the Chapel Hill and Carrboro town councils. We value the relationship with you, our most proximate neighbors, and the Town at large. There has always been a wonderful and historic symbiotic relationship between our town and gown communities; I want nothing more than for that to grow.
I know these are trying times for all of us, especially each of you and your constituents – many of whom work and study at Carolina. I know yesterday’s conversations around the Orange County Health Department’s recommendations fuel more angst and frustration among our community. In case you haven’t had the chance to read it, here is my campus email regarding the actions we have taken to greatly de-densify our campus and create more space for physical distancing – especially with public transportation.
To address the specifics of your letter:
We agree with you that we are one community. We’ve highlighted a section of our Carolina Together site to answer our neighbors’ questions. We expect our students to adhere to the University’s Community Standards and all state and local orders away from campus. At Carolina Together, in our institutional communications, and across all schools and units, we want to underscore that Orange County requires face masks in restaurants, grocery and retail stores, in public transportation vehicles and in any indoor or outdoor situation where individuals cannot maintain a 6-foot physical distance.
In our communication with students, we will also underscore the State of North Carolina has a 10-person limit on gatherings indoors and a 25-person limit outdoors. (There is an exemption from this order for educational institutions). Additionally our Student Affairs staff is working with both Chapel Hill Police Department and Chapel Hill Fire Department to address off-campus behavior. As you know, our fraternity and sorority houses have submitted plans to the Orange County Health Department and Student Affairs staff will be following up with those houses who have not submitted plans. Our Student Affairs and Campus Health staff have already and will continue to provide guidance to students who need to isolate and/or quarantine, ensuring they have the resources and support they need in order to fulfill the guidance.
On campus, as noted in my campus email, we have worked to de-densify our residential housing. We’ve allowed students to opt out of their housing contract without penalty until August 7 and we have reduced our residential housing to 64% of its normal capacity. We also have increased the number of courses with hybrid capacity thereby limiting on-campus in-person classroom occupancy to only 30%.
Regarding transit to campus, Chapel Hill Transit 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 also 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.
We’ve had a 17-year partnership with the Town of Chapel Hill through the Good Neighbor Initiative and municipal staff from both the Town of Chapel Hill and Carrboro have already stepped up to ensure that our messaging around our Community Standards is amplified in the community. Our Student Affairs staff, as well as emergency management officials, will be distributing Carolina Together Care Kits to every student to ensure that each of them have reusable masks, hand sanitizer, a thermometer, and guidance around the Community Standards and resources for students when they need guidance and assistance.
We continue to work closely with Chapel Hill Transit on signage instructing riders to physically distance and to wear a face mask. We’ll also be distributing 400 yard signs in off-campus communities asking if students remembered their mask, reminding them to practice physical distancing, and reinforcing the importance of being a good neighbor. These public health messages and reminders regarding Town ordinances will be a part of a multi-week effort lasting long beyond the first day of class.
Additionally, the University has developed a UNC-Chapel Hill COVID-19 dashboard that is available to the public. This data will help inform our decision making related to campus operations and possible off-ramps in consultation with the UNC System and the Orange County Health Department.
Provost Blouin and Vice Chancellor Battle meet weekly with Ms. Stewart and Dr. Pettigrew because the Orange County Health Department is a critical partner in our Roadmap. As I said in my campus email, we have had a very cooperative and collegial working relationship with the county health department for many years, but especially over the past months with direct and weekly interactions between the health department and Provost Blouin and Vice Chancellor Battle.
We have navigated many challenges before, and I know this one is one of the most critical we have had to face together. I know that our partnership with the Town of Chapel Hill, the Town of Carrboro, and Orange County is essential for fulfilling our mission. Thank you for reaching out and we will continue to share updates in the coming weeks. We appreciate your leadership in ensuring that our campus and local communities are safe.