Duke relaxed some COVID-19 restrictions on campus last week, but COVID-19 protocols at Triangle universities have seen varying levels of enforcement all semester.
While specific policies vary across Triangle universities, Duke is one of the few that have instituted a vaccine mandate. All of North Carolina’s 16 public universities do not have vaccine mandates.
However, many Triangle universities, including Duke, require unvaccinated students to get routine surveillance tests. At University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, unvaccinated students are required to test once a week.
Duke also requires vaccinated students to undergo weekly surveillance testing, while many Triangle universities do not. At North Carolina Central University, vaccinated students are tested twice a semester. Vaccinated students at UNC and North Carolina State University are not required to participate in surveillance testing.
As of Oct. 11, 93% of students at UNC Chapel Hill have attested to being fully vaccinated, but some student activists believe that number is inflated. Students are not required to show proof when they attest their vaccination status. Fake vaccination cards have also been reported to be circulated around campus.
“The system isn’t checking what students are saying and incentivises them to misreport their status,” said Luke Diaso, a member of the Vaccinate UNC Now movement.
But even “if the attestation rate is correct and we do have ninety or so percent students vaccinated, that would still be one-in-ten people [who are unvaccinated],” said Alexander Denza, a student at UNC and member of the Vaccinate UNC Now movement.
Vaccinate UNC Now is spearheading a campaign calling for the UNC system to mandate vaccinations and has received “pretty widespread support for a mandate on campus,” according to Diaso.
Diaso estimates that due to similarities in student bodies, UNC’s real vaccination rate is similar to NC State’s rate. As of Oct. 6, 79% of undergraduate students at NC State have reported being vaccinated.
UNC has no plans to institute a vaccine mandate, saying that they do not have the legal authority to do so. Rather, the UNC System’s Board of Governors argued that the North Carolina Commission for Public Health should make decisions about campus vaccinations.
“I think it’s best left in the hands of public health experts,” UNC System President Peter Hans said at a Sep. 16 press conference.
Diaso, on the other hand, believes the real reason for a lack of mandate is politics. The Board of Governors, which has 24 voting members elected by the General Assembly, lean conservative. Only one member is a registered Democrat.
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Despite the lack of vaccination enforcement, however, Student Health leadership at NC State has reported high compliance with other rules, like masking.
“We get emails and stories told to us from faculty and staff all around campus about how they’re not having to tell students to pull their masks up,” said Tyler Pearce, assistant director of Student Health Services at NC State.
Ultimately, Pearce believes that with students getting vaccinated each day, there is reason for hope in the long-term wrangling of COVID-19.
“Everyone is very optimistic that things will continue to get better.”