Think the pandemic is behind us? Not at Duke University, which abruptly imposed a stay-at-home order on all undergraduate students, effective at midnight Saturday night. The order will last at least until 9 a.m. Sunday, March 21.

According to a statement released by the University yesterday, officials decided “This action is necessary to contain the rapidly escalating number of COVID cases among Duke undergraduates, which is principally driven by students attending recruitment parties for selective living groups. Over the past week more than 180 students are in isolation for a positive COVID 19 test, and an additional 200 students are in quarantine as a result of contact tracing. This is by far the largest one-week number of positive tests and quarantines since the start of the pandemic. We will continue to monitor the situation and will share an update on Thursday, March 18.”

During the quarantine, several restrictions are in effect:

  • Classes will all shift to on-line delivery during the order with very limited exceptions.
  • Undergraduates working in laboratories may not participate in laboratory activities.
  • Students living in Duke-provided housing must remain in their residence hall room or apartment at all times except for essential activities related to food, health, or safety. 
  • Students who live off-campus in the Durham area are not permitted to come on campus, except to participate in surveillance testing, seek medical care at Student Health, or pick up grab-and-go food orders. 
  • Common campus spaces such as the Bryan Center, Brodhead Center, and other buildings will be open to residential students only for essential activities (for example, food or package pick up), and only during limited hours.
  • Libraries will be closed to undergraduate students.
  • For Duke students returning from travel, two negative surveillance tests will be required, even if that requirement extends their quarantine period past next weekend. 

The statement from John Blackshear, Associate Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students; Gary Bennett, Vice Provost of Undergraduate Education; and  Mary Pat McMahon, Vice Provost of Student Affairs; concluded with the following stern warning:

“If this feels serious, it’s because it is. This stay-in-place period is strongly recommended by our medical experts. The restriction of student movement—coupled with a renewed dedication to following social distancing, masking, symptom monitoring and other public health guidelines—gives us the best path toward curtailing further spread. Violations of these requirements will be considered a violation of the Duke Compact and will be treated as such; flagrant and repeated violations will be grounds for suspension or withdrawal from Duke.

Our ability to complete the semester, commencement for our seniors, and the health and safety of our community, including your fellow undergraduate students, is hanging in the balance. Now more than ever we NEED you to come together as a Duke community to meet this challenge together. We know you can do it.” 

The campus shut-down came just days after the Duke men’s basketball team, a perennial hoops powerhouse, made headlines by being forced to withdraw from the Atlantic Coast Conference basketball tournament, following a positive coronavirus test by a team member. The positive test apparently involved one of the team’s walk-ons, but contact tracing would have made additional players unavailable to play.

“We are disappointed we cannot keep fighting together as a group after two outstanding days in Greensboro,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said in a statement. “This season was a challenge for every team across the country and as we have seen over and over, this global pandemic is very cruel and is not yet over. As many safeguards as we implemented, no one is immune to this terrible virus.”

The news at Duke reveals the perplexing state of affairs that colleges and universities are facing as they continue to battle the Covid-19 pandemic. With vaccinations on the rise and overall incidence of the infection falling, many institutions have recently unveiled plans for in-person commencements and a return to near-normal campus operations in the fall. However, those announcements come at the very same time that local coronavirus conditions are causing college to discourage students from taking traditional spring breaks or compelling campus-wide restrictions like those just imposed at Duke.



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