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Duke University undergrads must quarantine due to COVID surge


All undergrads at Duke University are under a strict quarantine order after unsanctioned fraternity recruitment events led to almost 200 students becoming infected with COVID-19, school officials said.

The stay-at-home order, which went into effect at midnight Saturday, impacts all undergrads at the private university in Durham, North Carolina. Anyone violating the policy, which runs through March 21, could face suspension or expulsion.

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

More than 180 Duke students were in isolation Saturday after being infected with the virus and another 200 were quarantining as a result of contact tracing. Both figures mark the largest tallies at the university since the start of the pandemic last March, Duke officials said.

Duke spokesman Michael Schoenfeld said the action is a reminder that the pandemic is “still a very real danger” at the school of 6,000-plus undergrads and more than 8,000 graduate and professional students.

“These new cases are almost all linked to unsanctioned fraternity recruitment events that took place off-campus,” Schoenfeld said in a statement Sunday. “Those who are found responsible for organizing and hosting these events will be held accountable through the student conduct process.”

The policy mandates that all Duke undergrads who live on campus stay in their residence halls “at all times” except for essential activities related to food, health or safety. Off-campus students, meanwhile, won’t be allowed onto Duke grounds unless it’s for virus testing, other medical care or to pick up food.

“All in-person courses including lab classes will shift to remote-only delivery,” Duke officials said, adding that there will be “very few” exceptions.

“Now more than ever we NEED you to come together as a Duke community to meet this challenge together,” the statement continued. “We know you can do it.”

The overall positive test rate among all students on or near Duke’s campus this semester remains at roughly 1 percent, Schoenfeld said. But university officials felt compelled to implement the new policy to “attack the spike” among infections over the past week. Each student is tested, on average, twice per week.

“It is important to note that the majority of Duke students, faculty and staff continue to take seriously the practices that have it possible for us to be together on campus,” Schoenfeld’s statement read.

“This coming week will be a difficult (and we hope brief) chapter in a uniquely exhausting year and we are deeply concerned about the mental health and wellness of our students.”

Duke expects to provide an update on the stay-in-place order Thursday.


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