NC Gov. Roy Cooper speaks about the closure of UNC and COVID-19 precautions at an Aug. 19, 2020, press conference.
Gov. Roy Cooper speaks at a press conference, discussing his COVID-19 policies. Screen image from UNC-TV

The abrupt closure Monday of UNC Chapel Hill after several COVID-19 outbreaks a week into the fall semester has state officials urging residents to follow proven ways to stop the spread of the new coronavirus.

Gov. Roy Cooper and others cautioned that with the start of school, from kindergarten to college, people of all ages must maintain their vigilance to keep the virus at bay.

“We often say we are all in this together,” Cooper said. “That means we should support each other. That also means individual actions impact our statewide numbers.”

[The latest: North Carolina coronavirus updates]

Secretary Erik Hooks of the Department of Public Safety said he is also talking with local law enforcement about enforcing the mask mandate that Cooper put in place nearly two months ago.

“We want self-compliance,” Hooks said. “For those individuals that do not readily comply, we want to make sure they (law enforcement) have all of the tools in the toolbox to enforce these executive orders.”

Those tools, Hooks said, could include issuing citations for breaking the mask requirement.

Cooper has signed several executive orders related to the coronavirus pandemic. Currently, indoor gatherings can have no more than 10 people present, while outdoor gatherings are limited to 25 or fewer people. Bars and gyms have remained closed since March.

He urged people of all ages to act responsibly so North Carolina doesn’t backslide in its progress against COVID-19.

“Those making good decisions have to continue,” Cooper said. “Those who aren’t need to start.”

Fewer people are testing positive compared to recent weeks, and the number of people with COVID-like symptoms seeking help in emergency rooms across the state is down.

“Our key metrics show progress after a lot of hard work,” said Dr. Mandy Cohen, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. “This progress is fragile. There is no ‘one and done.’”

UNC Chapel Hill suddenly closed to in-person instruction on Monday after several clusters of COVID-19-positive students were discovered.

Cohen said the state was “just at the beginning” of understanding viral spread in state universities.

“The clusters are amongst their athletic teams that have been practicing together and have been on campus for longer,” Cohen said. “A number of them have been related to sororities and fraternities and other Greek life events” along with other social gatherings.

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Kate Martin is lead investigative reporter for Carolina Public Press. Email her at

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