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Another COVID-19 cluster reported in UNC-Chapel Hill housing

CHAPEL HILL (AP) — Another cluster of positive COVID-19 cases within student housing was announced Sunday at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The disclosure of cases within the Hinton James dormitory building marks the fourth such cluster — defined as five or more cases in close proximity — since the semester began Aug. 10 at the state’s flagship public university campus. The other three have occurred within an on-campus dormitory, private student housing and a fraternity house.

As with the other clusters, the individuals testing positive in the Hinton James cluster are being isolated and receiving medical monitoring. Contact tracing is also happening.

Sunday’s announcement is likely to add to the tensions at a special meeting Monday of UNC-Chapel Hill’s Faculty Executive Committee to discuss the coronavirus clusters. The committee of more than a dozen members advises school administrators on university issues, The News & Observer of Raleigh reported. Students are receiving a mix of in-person and remote instruction.

Committee Chair Mimi Chapman wrote a letter on Saturday asking the Board of Governors for the 17-campus UNC system to give UNC-Chapel Hill’s chancellor “authority to make decisions” about classes.

“We knew there would be positive cases on our campus. But clusters, five or more people that are connected in one place, are a different story,” Chapman wrote. “The presence of clusters should be triggering reconsideration of residential, in-person learning. However, moving to remote instruction cannot be done without your approval.”

Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz’s administration made adjustments to instructional and housing rules in the days before classes began to respond to the concerns of Orange County’s health director. But he said in a mass email Aug. 5 that “we believe we are well prepared” for the semester, and that “we were advised by the UNC system to stay the course with our current plan.”

Other UNC system schools already have started the fall semester or will soon.

Nearly 145,000 COVID-19 cases have been reported overall in North Carolina since the pandemic began, according to state health data. While the seven-day rolling average for new cases in North Carolina are on the decline, the positivity rate for new tests has increased slightly, according to The COVID Tracking Project.

The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

State Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley announced on Saturday the extension by another 30 days of her previous order requiring people to wear face coverings inside court facilities to stem the spread of the virus. Beasley also said in her order that she anticipates the suspension of jury trials to continue at least through the end of September.

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