The independent news organization of Duke University

[UPDATED] Everything we know (and don't know) about Duke and the coronavirus

On March 10, Duke made the unprecedented announcement that classes would shift online until further notice and that students were discouraged from returning to campus. But the news generated more questions than it answered. We compiled the questions that you asked and addressed them to the best of our ability below. 

Have a follow-up question? Ask us here.

We will update this guide as we learn more information.

Q: How long will students be off campus? When, if at all, will in-person classes resume?

A: The short answer is that a possible return date is still up in the air, given how fast that coronavirus and fear of coronavirus are sweeping the world. Duke canceled in-person classes for undergraduates March 13 but has left open the question of when students can retrieve their belongings.

As of March 12, University administrators encourage "as many students as possible" to depart campus as soon as they can. Students might be able to stay on campus for "personal safety and health" reasons, but Duke is currently evaluating which of the more than 2,000 students who requested to access or stay in the dorms can do so.

Vice President for Administration Kyle Cavanaugh extended restrictions on University-sponsored events from April 20 to May 7 in his March 13 email to the Duke community. 

Previously, President Vincent Price announced Duke would be canceling or virtualizing any on-campus or off-campus events with more than 50 people before April 20. And if a lecture with 75 attendees on April 18 has been canceled, for example, it probably isn't likely that thousands of students would be allowed to return to campus before that point, barring a significant change in the virus' spread.

Q: What about commencement? Is that still going to happen?

A: It's too early to say. Michael Schoenfeld, Duke's vice president for public affairs and government relations, told The Chronicle March 11 that the University still hopes to hold commencement, which is scheduled for May 10. But the final answer will depend on how the situation with coronavirus unfolds in the coming weeks.

The current cutoff for large gatherings has been set at April 20, and Duke will continue to re-evaluate whether that date should be pushed back in the coming weeks. Schoenfeld said that he doesn't want to make predictions, because despite Duke administrators' ability to consult with public health officials and infectious disease experts, they don't know whether the virus' spread will get better or worse in the coming month.

Q: What if I'm stuck on campus and have nowhere to go? Can I stay?

A: If you're unable to return home or live elsewhere, fill out the housing registration form here. University staff will follow up with you to learn more about your situation, according to an email sent to students by administrators March 11. Decisions will be made on a case-by-case basis.

"In general, it will be those students who don't have other options, who can't go home," Schoenfeld said in regard to who qualifies to stay on campus. "So that would be international students, that would be students who are fully emancipated or who have other individual or specific circumstances."

Administrators sent out another email March 12 changing the original policy. Now, in order to stay in your room past March 16 at noon, you need to register by March 15 at 5 p.m. DukeCard access will be restricted for those not approved starting March 16 at noon.

Q: My flight is scheduled to return to Raleigh-Durham International, but now I'm going to have to change my flight to go home. What do I do if all this traveling is prohibitively expensive?

A: You can check with your airline and see if you can change your flight. A lot of airlines have relaxed restrictions on changes due to the coronavirus. Forbes has put together a guide of airline change and cancellation policies.

Duke hasn't offered many specifics on how financial aid will help students who may need assistance to get home, but Schoenfeld said that "obviously, the University will work with every student to make sure that they're in a position to get through this." The Chronicle will work to gather more information about this issue.

Q: Can I come back to my room and pick up my belongings?

A: Students are no longer able to retrieve their items from their dorms, per a March 12 announcement from University officials. Duke is currently fleshing out a plan to ship students' necessary belongings back to them. Details regarding this plan will be announced early the week of March 15.

This decision supersedes the University's March 11 decision to allow students to register through a form to gather things from their rooms. DukeCard access will now be cut off March 16 at noon to all residence halls.

Q: What will students be reimbursed for?

A: There will be a reimbursement for unused housing and dining fees for students living on campus, but it's unclear whether that will come in the form of a refund or credit. 

Q: In the meantime, what's going to be open on campus? Libraries? Restaurants? Gyms?

A: Starting March 13, all main campus buildings require a DukeCard for entry, and Duke Chapel, the Rubenstein Arts Center, the Nasher Museum of Art and Café, Duke Athletics Hall of Fame in Cameron Indoor Stadium, Sarah P. Duke Gardens and Karsh Alumni and Visitors Center are closed to visitors.

The library will remain open but with reduced hours, similar to normal hours of operation over breaks. There will be food service on campus, but the restaurants that will remain open and their hours are still being determined. Duke Recreation facilities announced March 11 that they would temporarily close beginning March 12. It's unclear when they plan to reopen.

It's important to note that Duke is not actually shut down. Duke just does not want people gathering on campus and increasing the risk of the coronavirus spreading.

Q: What's the deal for Resident Assistants?

A: All RA responsibilities have concluded for the semester, according to an email sent to RAs obtained by The Chronicle. RAs will receive their April stipends, the email stated, but will not receive a payout for unused meal swipes or food points. If an RA wants to remain on campus after March 23, they must register through the housing registration form.

Q: How's all this online learning going to work? What if I don't have Wi-Fi?

A: Duke's still working to figure the particulars out, which is part of the reason that spring break was extended for an extra week. With thousands of classes and thousands of students, the best answers will come on a case-by-case basis as communicated by professors.

But generally speaking, Duke's Learning Innovation team has been working to streamline the transition process. Several of Duke's graduate and professional schools have online learning components, and Duke Kunshan University moved online earlier in the semester. 

So although the University hasn't dealt with a problem on this scale, it still has experience working to develop the technology and content catered to online courses.

Q: I have a reunion/tour/Blue Devil Days scheduled before April 20. Should I still go?

A: No. Reunions, campus tours for prospective students and Blue Devil Days before April 20 are all canceled. This includes recruitment weekends, such as the Black Student Alliance Invitational and Latino Student Recruitment Weekend. The Blue Devil Days slated for April 21 will be re-evaluated in the future. 

Q: What about campus workers who rely on students being present for their livelihood? Are they still getting paid?

A: University employees will be kept at their current pay status. Staff members who are able to work from home may choose to do so, and employees—such as bus drivers—whose duties are tied to a significant student presence on campus may be shifted to other jobs, but they will still be paid.

It isn't clear whether this applies to workers who are employed by other companies, such as some food and security workers.

Q: Is dirty Myrtle still happening?

A: Get your priorities straight. And ask your friends, not us.

Jake Satisky contributed reporting.


Share and discuss “[UPDATED] Everything we know (and don't know) about Duke and the coronavirus” on social media.