by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Shannon Watkins of the Martin Center highlights one coronavirus-related problem for N.C. universities.
For college campuses across North Carolina, the fall ushered in a less-than-ideal reality. The coronavirus, although under greater control than in the spring, was—and is—widely circulating.
Within the first few weeks of the semester, hundreds of students tested positive at UNC campuses including UNC-Chapel Hill, North Carolina State University, and East Carolina University. Since then, all UNC campuses now report the number of confirmed positive cases on publicly available dashboards.
Yet, despite the sharp rise in student cases, few young North Carolinians seem to require serious medical attention. A UNC Health viral disease specialist, Dr. William Fisher, noted that “[in North Carolina,] we’re seeing a younger group becoming infected, and those younger individuals tend not to require hospitalization.”
What about UNC system students specifically? How many of them require hospitalization? And faculty and staff? Given that universities are making consequential policy changes based on the perceived threat of the coronavirus—with some going completely remote—it would seem reasonable for them to consider how sick it is actually making people on campus.
However, based on information requests made by the Martin Center, most schools don’t know the number of hospitalizations. The Martin Center contacted media relations at each of the 16 UNC system universities and asked how many students, faculty, and staff had been hospitalized due to COVID-19.
UNC-Chapel Hill reported two known hospitalizations. Both cases involved students who were hospitalized in June and July. The cases were “noncritical:” …
… The two privacy laws cited are FERPA (the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) and HIPPA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act). FERPA is a federal law that protects the privacy of student education records and HIPAA is a federal law that protects patients’ health information. It’s unclear, however, whether universities disclosing the number of hospitalizations would violate either law.