COVID Spread Among Students Prompts UNC to Return to Online Teaching
By Robin Foster and E.J. Mundell
TUESDAY, Aug. 18, 2020 (HealthDay News)
In a potential harbinger of what could unfold on college campuses across the United States this fall, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill said Monday it will revert back to online teaching after testing showed a rapid spread of coronavirus among students.
The university was one of the largest schools in the country to bring students to campus for in-person teaching, The New York Times reported. Officials announced the abrupt change just a week after classes began at the 30,000-student university, the newspaper said. Online instruction for undergraduate students will take effect Wednesday.
Why the switch? Out of hundreds tested, 177 cases of COVID-19 had been confirmed among students, the Times reported. Another 349 were in quarantine because of possible exposure to the virus, officials said. Clusters of coronavirus cases have already popped up in three residence halls and a fraternity house.
“We understand the concern and frustrations these changes will raise with many students and parents,” UNC-Chapel Hill’s Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz and Provost Robert Blouin said in a statement, the Times reported. “As much as we believe we have worked diligently to help create a healthy and safe campus living and learning environment, we believe the current data presents an untenable situation.”
On Monday, a new report highlighted another untenable situation: COVID-19 cases among nursing home residents have jumped nearly 80% this summer, driven by rampant spread of the virus across the South and much of the West.
“The case numbers suggest the problem is far from solved,” Tamara Konetzka, a research professor at the University of Chicago who specializes in long-term care, told the Associated Press. She was not involved with the study.
While cases continue to climb, a problem with a widely used COVID-19 test prompted a warning from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Monday. Potential accuracy issues could lead to false results for patients, the agency said.
Doctors and laboratory technicians using Thermo Fisher’s TaqPath genetic test need to follow updated instructions and software developed by the company to ensure accurate results, the AP reported.
Lasting immunity to COVID-19 seen in early trials
In a bit of good news, scientists reported Monday that they are seeing signs of lasting immunity to the coronavirus, even in those who only experience mild symptoms of COVID-19.
A slew of studies show that disease-fighting antibodies, as well as B-cells and T-cells that can recognize the virus, appear to persist months after infections have run their course, the Times reported.
“This is exactly what you would hope for. All the pieces are there to have a totally protective immune response,” said Marion Pepper, an immunologist at the University of Washington and an author of one of the new studies, which is now undergoing review by the journal Nature.
“This is very promising,” said Smita Iyer, an immunologist at the University of California, Davis, who is studying immune responses to the coronavirus in rhesus macaques, told the Times. “This calls for some optimism about herd immunity, and potentially a vaccine.”
Although researchers cannot predict how long these immune responses will last, experts consider the data to be the first proof that the body has a good chance of fending off the coronavirus if exposed to it again.
“Things are really working as they’re supposed to,” Deepta Bhattacharya, an immunologist at the University of Arizona, told the Times. Bhattacharya is an author on one of the new studies, which was published on medRxiv, a pre-print server for health research that has not yet been peer-reviewed.
By Tuesday, the U.S. coronavirus case count surpassed 5.4 million as the death toll exceeded 170,000, according to a Times tally.
According to the same tally, the top five states in coronavirus cases as of Tuesday were: California with nearly 635,000; Florida with more than 576,000; Texas with almost 570,000; New York with over 430,600; and Georgia with almost 222,000.
Nations grapple with pandemic
Elsewhere in the world, the situation remains challenging.
India has passed Britain to have the fourth-highest death toll in the world from the coronavirus, after the United States, Brazil and Mexico, the Washington Post reported.
By Tuesday, India had more than 2.7 million confirmed cases of the infection and nearly 52,000 deaths, a John Hopkins tally shows. Britain remains the worst-hit country in Europe, the Post reported.
Brazil is also a hotspot in the coronavirus pandemic, with over 3.4 million confirmed infections by Tuesday, according to the Hopkins tally. It has the second-highest number of cases, behind only the United States.
Cases are also spiking in Russia: As of Tuesday, that country reported the world’s fourth-highest number of COVID-19 cases, at over 930,000, the Hopkins tally showed.
Even New Zealand, a country that hadn’t seen a new coronavirus case is 100 days, hasn’t been spared.
On Monday, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the country’s general election, scheduled for Sept. 19, would be pushed back a month, the Post reported. The move comes as New Zealand grapples with a new wave of COVID-19 infections that have prompted a return to lockdown restrictions in parts of the country.
Worldwide, the number of reported infections passed 21.9 million on Tuesday, with nearly 774,600 deaths, according to the Hopkins tally.
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