By BRYAN ANDERSON
Tens of thousands of North Carolina college students will need to get a COVID-19 vaccine or be tested weekly, according the University of North Carolina System.
The system serving roughly 250,000 students at 16 public colleges and universities across the state said in a statement on Thursday that UNC System President Peter Hans will also issue guidance later this week to extend that standard to faculty and staff.
“All campuses will operate under a ‘Get Vaccinated or Get Tested Weekly’ requirement for students. Universities are collecting information on students’ vaccination status, and any unvaccinated students will be subject to weekly, or more frequent, testing,” said Norma Houston, chief of staff of the UNC System Office.
Houston added that, “It is only fair that we ask our employees to abide by the same safety protocols we’ve already put in place for our students.”
Vaccination data collected by the state Department of Health and Human Services shows children and young adults are far less likely than older residents to get vaccinated.
Less than 37% of residents aged 12 to 24 have gotten at least one COVID-19 shot, which is far below the statewide average of 59% of eligible North Carolinians at least partially vaccinated, according to state data. Meanwhile, 87% of residents 65 years of age or older have gotten one or more vaccine doses.
But a recent increase in people getting vaccinated is encouraging news for state officials. More residents came in for an initial dose last week than on any given week over the past two months.
“More and more people are listening to the message (and) are convinced by the overwhelming numbers that the vast majority of people in the hospital, in the ICU — people dying — are unvaccinated people,” Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper said at an event earlier this week. “That and that alone, I believe, is convincing a lot of people that it’s time to get the vaccination, to get it done.”
UNC System said it has administered more than 92,000 vaccinations at its campus clinics.
Republican state lawmakers have criticized recent announcements from hospital systems and government agencies compelling workers to get vaccinated. On Thursday, 55 House Republican lawmakers sent a letter to health system executives and called their decision to mandate vaccines “unwise and unfair.”
The latest move to push college students and workers to get vaccinated comes as the delta variant spreads rapidly, prompting fears of outbreaks as the fall semester approaches.
Cases reported on Thursday surpassed 4,300 for the first time since Feb. 11. The 1,651 people currently hospitalized due to COVID-19 represents a more than four-fold increase over the past month and the highest count since Feb. 20. More than 11% of tests on Monday came back positive, the worst daily positivity rate in more than six months.