The experience of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is instructive. The university, with nearly 30,000 students, started classes Aug. 10. By Monday, 177 students had been isolated after testing positive for the coronavirus and another 349 were in quarantine because of possible exposure. The university had a strict mask mandate and asked students to practice social distancing; residence halls were reduced to less than 60 percent capacity; and fewer than 30 percent of total classroom seats were filled. But, partly due to social gatherings of students, infections soared; the first week, the campus health clinic saw the test positivity rate rise from 2.8 percent to 13.6 percent.
On Monday, the university abruptly switched to online classes only. Mimi Chapman, the UNC-Chapel Hill faculty chair, told NPR after the announcement that the university had some of the best public health communications staff in the country. “If we can’t