This article was written in collaboration with the News & Observer. Kate Murphy is the higher education reporter at the N&O.
At least 15 Duke MBA students who traveled to Israel over spring break tested positive for COVID-19 and have been isolated at their homes off campus for at least a week, sources told The News & Observer. They were tested and instructed to self-quarantine after four other graduate students from that trip tested positive while still overseas.
Those students were tested after experiencing symptoms at the end of the trip and are currently quarantined in Israel and receiving medical treatment.
Several dozen students went on that trip, which was not sponsored by Duke, and had already returned to Durham, sources said. They were instructed to self-quarantine at their homes off-campus until they got medical clearance.
Duke Health and Durham County said they were working to test other individuals who traveled with the group.
An additional 11 individuals in the Duke community tested positive after traveling internationally, but the University and Durham county did not say those 11 cases are connected to the Israel trip.
In February, Duke strongly encouraged students to reconsider any international travel over spring break, but had no authority to ban students from personal travel.
The Israel trip was not university-funded or related to any Duke programs or courses. Sources said it was organized through a travel company called iTrek, which says the peer-led trips bring “Israel to life through a combination of education, culture and fun.”
Ido Dembin, iTrek’s Israel Director, did not respond to an interview request.
Quarantines at Durham apartment complex
Paulina Escobar, an employee at the leasing department of the Station Nine apartments in Durham, said that Duke students in the apartment complex have self-quarantined upon their return to Durham after having been exposed to COVID-19.
“Some of our residents did get in contact with the novel coronavirus on a recent trip abroad and are now self-quarantining themselves in their apartments,” Escobar said. “To our knowledge there are no confirmed cases as of now.”
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The students who were in touch with people who contracted the virus were coming back from an Israel trip and “other destinations” from abroad, according to Escobar.
The property is taking precautionary measures to sanitize and has an emergency plan should any residents test positive, according to Justin Wybenga, vice president of asset services at GMH University Housing. He said the health and safety of residents is their top priority.
Some Station Nine residents told a reporter Tuesday they didn’t know about these students isolating in their apartments.
Duke Health and Durham County Department of Public Health officials are investigating whether the individuals had close contact with others within Durham County while they were symptomatic.
The shopping center near the apartment complex was quiet Tuesday and many local businesses were closed. Some readers reached out to the News & Observer about concerns that some students had broken the quarantine rules and visited local restaurants, shops and grocery stores.
A manager at a Harris Teeter in the shopping center said the store hadn’t heard any complaints from employees about interacting with people who have COVID-19 and that none of their associates have tested positive. She said the store is continuing to sanitize, wiping down keypads, giving cashiers protective gloves to wear and taking precautions with social distancing.
More cases in Durham County
On Monday, Durham County announced that 30 more residents tested positive for the coronavirus disease. County officials did not indicate that any of those cases are Duke students.
“To the best of my knowledge, none of these individuals are Duke undergraduates,” said Erin Kramer, executive director of media and public affairs. “Everyone else is an adult who lives in Durham. Anyone who is connected to Duke as a student is being supported (not monitored) by Duke Student Health. Everything else is covered by patient privacy restrictions.”
Both the Durham County Department of Public Health and Duke University have said in statements that every step is being taken to keep anyone who may have been exposed to COVID-19 in isolation and monitored. But officials will not identify any individual patient or provide any information that could compromise the privacy of these individuals.
Most Duke students have vacated their dorms and have started online classes as part of the University’s efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Durham County has reported more than 74 cases, as of Tuesday, and there is evidence of community spread, which means that the person infected does not know how they were infected. Mayor Steve Schewel issued a “stay at home” order for Durham Wednesday to fight the spread of coronavirus.
If you or someone you know has been affected by the coronavirus at Duke University or you would like to share information about the Fuqua overseas trip, please contact Lara Hansen at firstname.lastname@example.org.