Seeking answers about vaccine mandates

UNC-Chapel Hill encourages but does not require vaccination against COVID-19. Students who are not vaccinated must get a COVID test twice a week.

We are a month into the fall semester at UNC-Chapel Hill. In that time, North Carolina has seen a rise in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

Discussion continues about whether to require vaccinations for students, faculty and staff at public universities in the state. At the moment, vaccines are encouraged but not required, even though teaching has returned in person to classrooms at full capacity.

Last week, UNC system leader Peter Hans said at a news conference that a decision on a vaccination mandate would have to come from the North Carolina Commission for Public Health. “That’s where those decisions best lie,” Hans said.

That statement creates as many questions as it answers. Namely:

— What is the North Carolina Commission for Public Health?

— What is its mission?

— Who’s on it, and how are members selected?

— When does it meet?

Those questions are answered to some extent on the commission’s bare-bones website. But others are not, such as:

— What are the commission’s powers? Is it indeed the body that can require vaccinations at UNC system schools?

— The commission last met Aug. 4. Why isn’t it meeting again until Oct. 15?

— When it does meet, will the commission consider requiring vaccination for students, faculty and staff in the UNC system?

These are timely questions that are best asked by a news organization, which can share the answers it finds with readers, viewers and listeners. The FAQ format would work well here.

Reporting the statements of leaders is one component of journalism. Providing context to those statements and explaining the framework of decision-making are others. This moment is an opportunity to put those components together.

UPDATE: The Assembly has posted a story that answers these questions — and many others.