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Universities undecided on return to in-person learning as UNC-Chapel Hill identifies a new COVID-19 cluster

Universities across the Carolinas remain split on the issue of students returning to campus, with some playing it safe and hosting virtual classes this spring.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill announced at least five COVID-19 cases have been linked to one of its residence halls as the debate continues over whether universities should return to in-person classes or stick with virtual learning. 

Universities across the Carolinas are mostly split on the issue, with some playing it safe and staying online. Others have mandated students return to campus for in-person classes. 

At least five cases of COVID-19 were traced to the Avery Hall dorms at UNC-Chapel Hill, just one week after virtual classes began and some students moved on campus. In-person learning isn't scheduled to resume at UNC until Feb. 7, but there are already reports of students gathering without masks on campus. 

“I don't know, it's just kind of crazy," UNC student Nicole Mares said. "It's disappointing to have our first year be like this."

RELATED: App State returns to in-person classes Monday

Some Chapel Hill students say they’ve seen the precautions the university has taken including smaller class sizes and testing offered to students twice a week.

"I think they're doing a good job. All the testing,” Mares said.

Looking at COVID-19 case numbers on North Carolina campuses, there are currently 391 students and 98 staff members positive for the virus at UNC-Chapel Hill. NC State, which began some in-person classes last week, reported 2,152 cases among students and 277 among staff. Duke University is reporting 70 active student cases and 30 among staff members. 

UNC Charlotte has pushed back in-person learning to at least Feb. 22. Queens University of Charlotte is also delaying students' return until Feb. 2. Appalachian State students are moving back in this weekend, preparing to return to class on Monday, Feb. 1. Appalachian State will require students to provide proof of a negative test in order to take in-person classes. 

 "It's a little bit nerve-wracking I guess in a way just because of everything that's going on right now but I'm excited to get back and get together with friends again," App State student Jonathan Marin said.

RELATED: UNC Charlotte pushes back the start of in-person classes to late February

The University of South Carolina has been back on campus for full in-person learning for three weeks now. U of SC reported 178 total active COVID-19 cases Saturday. Students and staff will be required to test for the virus every 30 days for the rest of the semester. 

Still, many decisions are left to be made by university officials who say everything is still subject to change.

RELATED: Gov. Cooper extends North Carolina's modified stay-at-home order