Campus News

Employee Forum hears updates on COVID-19 testing and spring semester plan

All employees will have access to free testing, beginning in January. About 3,500 students are expected to live on campus in the spring.

Screen shot of Amir Barzin presenting to Employee Forum.
Dr. Amir Barzin, assistant professor, UNC School of Medicine, presents to Employee Forum on Wednesday, Dec. 2. (Photo by Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

Employee Forum delegates heard updates about the University’s plans for COVID-19 testing and the spring semester during Wednesday’s virtual meeting.

Beginning in early January, employees without symptoms of the virus will be able to get one free test a week using a self-administered PCR test as part of the Carolina Together Testing Program. PCR tests are considered the gold-standard for delivering accurate results, said Dr. Amir Barzin, assistant professor, UNC School of Medicine.

To take the anterior nares nasal swab test, an employee will be given a cotton swab, similar to a Q-tip, to insert into each nostril for 15 seconds. The swab is then placed in a sealed plastic tube to be sent to the lab.

The sample will be evaluated at Carolina’s testing center housed in the Genome Sciences Building. The goal is to deliver results is less than 48 hours, Barzin said.

Employees will be asked to make an appointment for testing using the web-based Hall Pass app. Appointments will be available between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. weekdays and 11 am. and 5 p.m. weekends at three campus locations: Rams Head Recreation Center, Carolina Union and the CURRENT ArtSpace + Studio at Carolina Square. All locations are located on bus lines and have parking.

Testing for employees is optional, but mandatory for students living on- and off-campus, Barzin said, during the same hours and at the same locations.

Establishing the testing lab on campus has taken a “heroic” effort, said Provost Robert A. Blouin, who joined Wednesday’s meeting for the first of his regular visits to the Forum to share updates.

“We want to make sure we are providing access to the sampling so that it’s convenient for everybody,” Blouin said. “We want to encourage everyone to take full advantage of the availability of testing when it comes online in early January.”

Having a center on campus will reduce the cost of testing to the University and the center will be in a position to process between 25,000 and 30,000 tests each week, he said.

During fall semester, COVID-19 testing was available on a voluntary basis for students prior to their departure at the end of the semester. Nearly 16,000 tests were administered over a three-week period. About 85% of the students tested were living off campus. The positivity rate was 0.5%, Blouin said.

By comparison, the positivity rate is 7% for North Carolina and 3% for Orange County, Blouin added.

While testing will be one of the main differences between the spring and fall semesters, Blouin added the University has evaluated air-handling systems and updated air filtration systems in classrooms that will be used for in-person classes during the spring. About 20% of classes with fewer than 35 students will meet in person in the spring.

About 3,500 students are expected to live on campus during the spring semester in single occupancy rooms, up from 1,500 students who received permission to live on campus in the fall due to demonstrated hardships. In normal conditions, about 8,500 students live in dorms on campus.

The University also increased quarantine and isolation space from 140 beds to 600 beds in the spring, Blouin said, and is working to improve the student experience in those spaces, providing more support services.

Holiday schedules

A message will go to employees next week as a reminder that the holiday schedule has been adjusted so that employees can use two days of leave for University holidays or those who are concerned about leave balances can work those days, with supervisor approval, said Becci Menghini, vice chancellor for human resources and equal opportunity and compliance.

Some of the COVID-19-specific benefits that are set to expire at the end of this year — like the shared leave bank and the ability to interchangeably use vacation and sick time — will likely roll over to next year, she said, though HR is still waiting for clarification on specific details.

The UNC System Board of Governors last week passed its legislative priorities, which include asking the General Assembly to allow the System to create tools with provisions for a voluntary early retirement program and to make temporary base-pay adjustments, if needed. While the System may be granted authority to use the tools, it doesn’t mean they will be implemented, Menghini said.

Screenshot of Becci Menghini presenting to Employee Forum.

Vice Chancellor for Human Resources and Equal Opportunity & Compliance Becci Menghini speaks during the Employee Forum meeting. (Photo by Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

She stressed that Carolina’s administration is looking at every option possible to avoid layoffs, furloughs and adjustments.

Delegates also heard a presentation by Director of Emergency Management and Planning Darrell Jeter, UNC Chief of Police David Perry and Vice Chancellor of Communications Joel Curran on the Alert Carolina notifications that were sent on Oct. 30 about an alleged armed individual near the Ambulatory Care Center.

Sharing an overview of the Alert Carolina system, Jeter said it worked as it was intended to function on Oct. 30, adding that the team continues to improve it.

Perry added that after-action reviews should be held with appropriate staff who have the necessary information about the incident.

Both Jeter and Perry assured delegates that feedback about communications during the incident had been heard and improvements would be implemented going forward.