NEW YORK: The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill cancelled in-class instruction just one week into the new term on Monday (Aug 17) after positive cases of COVID-19 shot up dramatically, becoming the latest US school to reverse course on reopening.
The university's chancellor said in a letter to students posted on the campus website that classes would be held online going forward, along with academic support services. Aug. 11 was the first day of the new academic year.
The decision came after the COVID-19 positivity rate - the percentage of those tested who had infections - went from 2.8 per cent to 13.6 per cent at the campus clinic, Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz said in the message.
"So far, we have been fortunate that most students who have tested positive have demonstrated mild symptoms," Guskiewicz said.
Other colleges, including the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, began the fall semester on Monday with all classes conducted online.
Nationwide, new cases of COVID-19 fell for a fourth week in a row but infections remain at high levels in many states and deaths continue to average 1,000 per day. More than 30 states have test positivity rates over 5% and Mississippi, Nevada, Florida and Idaho are over 16 per cent.
New York, once the epicenter of the coronavirus in the country, has an infection rate below 1 per cent, along with Connecticut, Maine and Vermont. New York state Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Monday that gyms could reopen from next week.
In total, over 170,000 have died in the United States from the disease, according to a Reuters tally.
'NOT HESITATE TO QUARANTINE'
Nationwide, many elementary, secondary, high schools and colleges scheduled to begin the new term in August or September have imposed "remote learning," as teachers unions opposed in-class instruction.
A school district in Arizona cancelled its plans to reopen schools on Monday after a number of teachers called in sick.
"Every single one of us wants to go back to work," said Marisol Garcia, vice president of the Arizona Education Association. "We want to be in a classroom, we want to be in front of our kids, we want things to go back to normal. But that school that parents want to send their children to does not exist yet," she told Reuters.
In Georgia, a third high school in Cherokee County has closed for in-person classes, the county's school district said, citing an increase in the number of positive cases and nearly a third of students under quarantine. The district said in a statement on Sunday it was postponing the planned start to in-person classes from Monday to Aug. 31.
Cherokee County schools were featured in the national media this month after students posted images on social media showing pupils massed together in hallways, many of them not wearing masks.
Georgia's new cases are down slightly from their peak but the state reported over 20,000 new infections last week and a 12 per cent positivity rate, which suggests more undetected cases in the community.
A Nebraska school district said on Saturday it had cancelled classes after three staff members tested positive and 24 more were in quarantine for exposure.
Officials at a school district in Oklahoma learned that one high school student attended the first day of classes on Thursday, even though the student had tested positive and had not completed the 10-day quarantine.
"Upon speaking with the student, they said since they were asymptomatic then they believed their quarantine period was five days," Dawn Jones, public information officer for Moore Public Schools, told Reuters. The parents apologised for the misunderstanding.