UPDATED: ECU to continue with in-person classes; N.C. State identifies COVID-19 clusters

[photo courtesy ECU News Services]

East Carolina University interim Chancellor Ron Mitchelson sent an email to faculty and staff on Tuesday, saying in-person classes will continue despite concerns at other college campuses in North Carolina over the growing number of COVID-19 cases.

The memo follows an announcement Monday evening that a coronavirus cluster was identified at Gateway Residence Hall, and the school had a seven percent positive test rate as of Tuesday.

Good morning colleagues,

As you might have seen in the news, UNC Chapel Hill announced Monday afternoon that they are moving undergraduate courses to online beginning Wednesday, Aug. 19, in response to outbreaks of COVID-19 in Chapel Hill over the past several days.

Following guidance from the UNC System, ECU and other System institutions will proceed as planned with on-campus instruction.

As we move into our second week of classes, I want to thank you for helping to set an example for our student Pirates by wearing masks and staying physically distant while continuing to provide our students with access to excellence and opportunity.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: we achieve our mission — student and regional success — at much higher levels when we can operate in-person. Being face to face enhances engagement, which is critical for our students.

Like many of you, I continue to monitor the key COVID-19 metrics at all scales, including the local data. We are watching the situation on our campus daily, and the campus COVID-19 dashboard has been updated. The cumulative COVID-19 totals reported to ECU from students as of Aug. 16 include 1,458 tests, 108 positive tests, with a 7.4% positive test rate. Seventy-nine of these students are classified as recovered. As of the Aug. 16 report, 17 employees have tested positive and 13 have recovered. In total, the past two weeks have averaged about 30 new cases per week. Thus far, we are relatively successful in flattening the curve.

Last Wednesday we tested 165 students with 5 positive results (about 3%). The low number of positives gave me hope that everyone was doing their part. But then, the weekend comes and we see a small but visible fraction of our total student body scare us and the community with parties that are too large, too dense, unmasked, and irresponsible. While we had no party nearly as large as that reported in week one, we still had two dozen parties over the past weekend to which ECU Police and Greenville Police responded. Please note that after an intense educational campaign, we have turned up the “heat” on these gatherings and there are consequences for this behavior. We all know that we bring students to a campus to be social but some of them must show more restraint and we all need to practice patience. I end by reminding us all that COVID-19 is the adversary and the vast majority of ECU students join us in defeating it. They are compliant.

Please join me in remaining safe and in reinforcing the need for responsible behavior. Practice the 3 Ws – Wash hands, Wait 6 feet, Wear your mask! We have said it all along, our success in returning will be in direct proportion to our compliance with community expectations. Flatten the curve at ECU!!

Meanwhile, N.C. State University announced a COVID-19 cluster in an off-campus housing area, along with cases in the Greek life community on Tuesday.

Wake County Human Services has identified a cluster of COVID-19 cases in an off-campus housing location near the 2700 block of Clark Avenue in Raleigh.

A “cluster” is defined by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services as five or more cases that are deemed close proximity or location.

Several individuals who have tested positive as part of this cluster have been identified, including some who are NC State students. Contact tracing has been initiated with direct communication to anyone known to have been in close contact with a person who has tested positive for COVID-19. A close contact is defined as someone who has been within 6 feet of an infected person for more than 15 minutes when either person has not been wearing a face covering. Those identified as a close contact will be notified directly and provided with further guidance.

In addition, reports indicate a party or other gathering was hosted at this address on or around August 6. It is unclear how many were present at the event, but anyone who attended should follow up with their personal healthcare provider or Student Health Services at 919-513-0227.

NC State works closely with the Wake County Human Services to identify, trace and isolate potential positive cases both on and off campus for students, faculty and staff. For more information on this process, what you can do to help protect the NC State community, and what NC State is doing to help reduce the transmission of COVID-19, visit the Protect the Pack website.

NC State asks that all in our community remain committed to protecting the Pack, including following the University’s Community Standards and related policies on face coverings, physical distancing and gatherings and events.

Anyone in the NC State community experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, which include fever, shortness of breath, muscle aches or a cough, should immediately contact their medical provider or Student Health Services.

In compliance with the Timely Notice provisions of the Federal Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Police and Campus Crime Statistics Act of 1998, NC State is providing notice of this COVID-19 cluster for campus awareness. The University will not broadly communicate details about individual positive cases, consistent with the State Human Resources Act and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, as well as other privacy considerations.

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Sam Walker is news director for OBXToday.com, Beach 104, 99.1 The Sound, Big 94.5 and News Talk 92.3 WZPR. Reach him at [email protected]