CDC reports COVID-19 clusters at UNC campus during first weeks of reopening

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report on Tuesday detailing a “rapid increase” in coronavirus clusters within the first two weeks of the University of North Carolina’s campus opening. 

“Student gatherings and congregate living settings, both on and off campus, likely contributed to the rapid spread of COVID-19 in this setting,” the CDC wrote in a news release.

According to the CDC, UNC opened its campus on Aug. 3, transitioning from primarily remote learning in March.

The health agency reported 670 confirmed COVID-19 cases from Aug. 3-25, linked to clusters related to UNC student gatherings. 

“Student gatherings and congregate living settings, both on and off campus, likely contributed to the rapid spread of COVID-19 within the university community,” wrote the CDC. 

The CDC recommends a reduction in density of on-campus housing, increase COVID-19 testing and discouraging of student gatherings. 

UNC did no immediately respond for comment. 

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The CDC report comes as colleges across the nation struggle to salvage the fall semester amid skyrocketing coronavirus cases. 

Entire dorm complexes and frat houses have been forced to implement quarantines as flaring tensions with local community leaders rise over the spread of the virus from campuses to nearby neighborhoods. 

In Rhode Island, Gov. Gina Raimondo, a Democrat, this week blamed outbreaks at two colleges for a surge of virus cases that boosted the state's infection rate high enough to put it on the list of places whose residents are required to quarantine when traveling to New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison had seen more than 2,800 confirmed cases in students as of Sept. 25. The school shut down in-person instruction for two weeks, locked down two of its largest dorms, and imposed quarantines on more than a dozen sorority and fraternity houses. The school lifted the dorm lockdown just this week.

At Kansas State University, more than 2,200 students have been placed in quarantine or isolation since class began. Student Emily Howard was isolated in what students have dubbed “COVID jail” after she and her dorm roommate tested positive for the virus on Sept. 4, just three weeks after arriving on campus.

“Now you walk around campus (and) pretty much everyone says they’ve had it,” Howard said. “Now we don’t really care as much because we know we had the antibodies.”

On Sept. 25, the University of Connecticut placed a third dormitory under medical quarantine. More than 150 students had tested positive.

The University of Missouri has had more than 1,500 confirmed cases among students since classes began. The school planned to limit the crowd at its Sept. 26 home football opener against Alabama to no more than 11,700 fans, leaving the stands about 80% empty.

Florida State last week decided to require that students test negative for the virus a week before a football game before being allowed to attend. Students must also wear masks in the stands. Seminoles coach Mike Norvell tested positive for the virus last week.

University officials across the country say they hope to bolster testing and contact tracing as the semester continues. 

The Associated Press contributed to this story.