Photo courtesy of UNC-Chapel Hill

So far this semester, how are you feeling about UNC’s response to COVID and the state of the pandemic in the Triangle?

I applaud our students 100 percent for being vigilant, doing their job in trying to help control the spread of the virus, and taking care of one another. I’m super proud of the fact that we have a very high vaccination rate on our campus, and I’m proud to live in an area—even if you take into consideration the Triangle area—where we have an extremely high vaccination rate compared to the rest of the country and North Carolina. I think it reflects well in the fact that we have some of the lowest hospitalization rates between our counties, and some of the lowest mortality rates across the state. So it’s really reassuring when I look at the community at large and on campus. I’m super proud.

Why has UNC stopped offering walk-in asymptomatic testing?

When we first started doing the asymptomatic testing program, it was a pillar of the prevention strategies that we had out there. Asymptomatic testing right now, when the disease has such a short incubation period, is actually not very helpful; you would have to test the community every single day to make an effective measure in terms of prevention. Also, given how fast Omicron spreads, we didn’t want to have thousands of samples collected in a day that we couldn’t turn around, because our goal is a 24-hour turnaround. We’re actually still doing about 70 percent more testing than we did towards the end of last semester, even though we don’t do walk-ins.

The Omicron variant has led to increased positivity rates but has much milder symptoms. How do you feel about the idea of “herd immunity”?

It’s a really interesting perspective, because if you’re going to have a virus that is widespread, you want it to have two things: one is that if the transmissibility is high, that the severity is low, and then two, you want to capture it at the right moment. I think this is probably as good a moment as any. We’re lucky that we have the footing where we have a highly vaccinated community superimposed on a variant that is less virulent in terms of severity but slightly more contagious. There’s this proposed idea right now of what we’re calling “hybrid immunity”: immunity that is both vaccinated immunity and disease-contracted immunity. So we’re not stressing that we want people to get the virus, but hopefully that helps us in terms of protection down the line.

What do you want people to know about the current state of the virus and how it’s changing?

Know that there’s outpatient treatment options, continue to encourage vaccination and boosting. Know that our masks are effective; wearing the mask that makes the most sense for you in terms of comfort, if you can wear it reliably, is the most important thing. I’m always the forever optimist, but I think this spring is going to be a really good time for our country. I think that people will largely see that they’ll be able to coexist with low levels of a virus kind of lingering in the background and do it in a safe and responsible manner. I’m really looking forward to where we are in the next couple months. 

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