Duke University orders temporary ‘stay-in-place’ restrictions on campus to stop spread of COVID

Duke University is dramatically restricting campus activities for undergraduates, including a shift to almost all remote classes, in an effort to stop COVID-19 cases from spreading.

The school announced a stay-in-place order Saturday night. From midnight March 14 until 9 a.m. Sunday, March 21, Duke undergrads who live on campus are ordered to stay in their residence halls except for “essential” activities pertaining to food, health or safety. Students who live off campus won’t be allowed on campus except for a few circumstances.

“If this feels serious, it’s because it is,” Duke said in a statement signed by university officials.

The order comes after Duke officials warned students earlier in the week that the university could lock down the campus, responding to a COVID-19 spike connected to in-person fraternity rush events. The university has said those off-campus parties led to the current spread on campus.

“This stay-in-place period is strongly recommended by our medical experts,” according to Saturday’s university statement. “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.”

The stay-in-place order will be reevaluated on Thursday, the university said.

Duke said the pause is needed after more than 180 students tested positive for COVID-19 in one week and another 200 are currently in quarantine.

“This is by far the largest one-week number of positive tests and quarantines since the start of the pandemic,” the university said.

In February, Duke also threatened to tighten restrictions on campus following a spike in cases in January.

Under the latest order, on-campus students will be largely confined to their residence halls except to pick up food from dining halls, for medical care or COVID-19 testing. Students can be outdoors and can exercise, but groups are restricted to three people with masks and social distancing.

Off-campus students won’t be allowed on campus except to take part in surveillance testing, to get medical care or to pick up food on campus.

Common spaces like the Bryan Center student union will be open only for essential activities during limited hours. Libraries will be closed to undergraduate students.

On Sunday, Duke Vice President of Public Affairs Mike Schoenfeld said the significant spike in COVID-19 cases within the university was discovered through the school’s testing protocol, which he said tests each student twice each week.

Despite the spike, Schoenfeld said Duke’s positive test rate is around 1%.

“This week’s increase in positive COVID-19 test results among Duke undergraduates is a stark reminder that this pandemic is still a very real danger to all of us, and that we need to be unwavering in our commitment to common-sense public health guidance and the requirements of the Duke Compact,” Schoenfeld said in a statement. “We have heard from many students who understand the necessity of the stay-in-place order and are just as eager as we are to fight this upward trend in new cases, which was entirely avoidable.”

Durham County’s COVID-19 case counts had steadily declined for weeks, but increased each day over the past week.

The university has not reported any citations for COVID-related violations, but said fraternity rush events are being investigated.

“This stay-in-place order is the direct result of individual behavior in violation of Duke’s requirements for in-person activity,” Schoenfeld said. “These new cases are almost all linked to unsanctioned fraternity recruitment events that took place off campus. Those who are found responsible for organizing and hosting these events will be held accountable through the student conduct process.

The university said it would have an update on the stay-in-place restrictions Thursday.

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Source: News Observer