The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (UNC) and the University of Massachusetts Amherst (UMass Amherst) have barely begun the spring semester. Despite this, they are already scrambling to revert back to remote learning and prepare for a likely spike in positive cases after separate incidents of students disregarding COVID-19 protocols.

UNC Goes Wild Over Basketball Win

Just days before in-person classes were to resume, the administration was forced to postpone after UNC fans flocked to Franklin Street and lit a mattress on fire in celebration of a win against longtime basketball rivals Duke University on February 6.

The Duke versus UNC basketball game is a cherished annual tradition, and the revelry that takes place immediately after a win is even more so. However, this year’s celebrations posed a serious health risk and many took to social media to point out how it clearly flouted the university’s COVID-19 policies.  

The celebrations continued for roughly 45 minutes before Chapel Hill Police dispersed the crowd that had gathered.

‘Classic Case of White Privilege?’

An editorial in The Daily Tar Heel, UNC’s independent student newspaper, lamented that “while UNC encouraged students not to rush, there did not seem to be an effective plan to stop it from occurring.”

“The police seemed to be even less prepared for the Franklin rush than they would have been in a normal year,” it stated.

The editorial also noted that “the vast majority of students rushing were white,” labeling the incident as a “classic case of white privilege.”

Associate dean for doctoral education in the School of Social Work Mimi Chapman echoed these concerns in a letter to the faculty, estimating that there were around 1,500 people in the crowd and highlighted how the crowd’s act of defiance may have been demoralizing for other students and frontline workers.

“I am concerned that students, many of whom are abiding by the pandemic community standards, may not believe they have the choices they need given some of their peers’ behavior. Our students of color, in particular, have indicated that they feel this risk profoundly,” Chapman explained.

“This applies equally to staff who perform essential services and have virtually no choice in whether to work on campus or not,” she finished.

Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz tweeted that the university will continue investigating the incident and working with local authorities to pursue consequences.

UMass Amherst Returns to Remote Learning After Cases Spike

While there is no single event that can be attributed to the spike in positive cases at UMass Amherst, school leaders told NBC News that the university has already referred 354 students to the conduct office for violating a variety of social distancing guidelines.

Last week, the university recorded almost 300 positive cases over the course of two days. On Wednesday, the university dashboard noted that it had increased to 423.

As a result, all in-person classes were canceled on Sunday and students were forced to quarantine. They are only allowed to leave for food, biweekly COVID-19 testing, or medical emergencies.

Chancellor Kumble R. Subbaswamy announced in a letter to the university community that these guidelines will be imposed until February 21.