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Duke still plans for Fall return amid rising COVID-19 cases, unveils website with information on return

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Duke still plans to begin the Fall semester with students on campus, according to a Tuesday message to the Duke community from President Vincent Price. 

The announcement comes as COVID-19 cases are rising in many areas across the nation. Price wrote that Duke staff were monitoring public health in the state and across the country.

“While the trends we see today are concerning, we believe that the many safety precautions we are putting in place will allow us to responsibly continue along the path towards opening Duke’s Fall 2020 semester on campus in August,” Price wrote. 

A new website—which Price included in the message—includes more information about Duke’s plans to return students and employees to campus. 

The four-phase process is now entering Phase 3, under which “business support operations, faculty offices, and more student/academic support services will be open,” according to the website. The first two phases, which stretched from March to June, included keeping critical operations running and gradually reopening research labs and clinics. 

The website also includes information on public health measures, community responsibilities, campus operations and frequently asked questions.

In his message, Price acknowledged that "COVID-19 presents a rapidly changing set of circumstances in North Carolina and across the country."

"We will continue to monitor the situation closely and make adjustments to this plan as required by public health conditions and state and local regulations," he wrote.

Price reiterated in his message the current Aug. 17 start date—which is a week earlier than planned—that he first announced in late May. In that update to the Duke community, Price also announced that there will be no fall break and final exams will end before Thanksgiving to avoid a potential second wave of COVID-19 cases.

Student athletes will be returning to campus sooner than Aug, 17, beginning a phased move-in July 12.

The upcoming semester, Price wrote, will “look very different.” This will include “an altered schedule, new ways of engaging with our work and each other, and unfamiliar sights on campus.”

Additional changes this year include mandatory testing for all undergraduate students prior to beginning classes or moving into residence halls. 

“We are proceeding on this path only after a rigorous internal process that continues to have as its highest priority the health and safety of the Duke community,” he continued.

Anyone else who comes to campus will be required to complete daily symptom monitoring, wear a face-covering in public settings and practice social distancing. 

All students, faculty and staff members will also be required to agree to the Duke Compact, a statement committing individuals to community health and the behavioral standards that uphold that.

Price also elaborated on instruction methods for Fall classes. He initially laid out three possibilities in the May update—online, in-person or a hybrid—but the new message gives more details. 

“Face-to-face” classes will take place both in usual classrooms and in other spaces on campus, while “hybrid” classes will have both face-to-face and online components. For classes that are moving entirely online, some will have dedicated, “live” meeting times, while others will have lectures recorded for students to watch at any time. For classes with recorded lectures, discussion and lab components will be online, according to the message, though Price did not specify whether they will be live. 

Incoming first-years will be housed on both East Campus and West Campus for the Fall semester, though they will have “dedicated first-year spaces” on West Campus. Returning students will continue to live on West Campus and in the 300 Swift apartments, as well as “nearby hotels and apartment buildings,” which Duke previously announced will include the Washington Duke Inn and Blue Light apartments. 

The move-in process for first-year students will begin the week of Aug. 10, Price wrote, and take place in phases. 

Safety requirements for undergraduate students

Mary Pat McMahon, vice provost and vice president for student affairs, and Gary Bennett, vice provost for undergraduate education, outlined safety expectations in a Tuesday email to undergraduate students. 

Students who choose to return to campus, they wrote, must commit to taking certain steps to avoid transmission of COVID-19. These include wearing face coverings at all times outside of students’ rooms, maintaining at least six feet of distance from others and washing hands.

Students will also have to “accurately and consistently” report symptoms on a tracking app each day and comply with “contact tracing efforts, isolation protocols, and quarantine terms.” 

Students must also “limit social gatherings—either on- or off-campus—in groups of more than 10 people,” McMahon and Bennett wrote. They wrote that they understand the social aspect of Duke is important to students, and assured that there are teams working to “make some in-person social engagement possible this fall,” which will mostly be outside and in small groups.

“In the weeks ahead, we’ll introduce educational efforts and harm reduction strategies designed to help you adhere to these guidelines,” the email read. Note, though, that any student’s flagrant disregard of the safety of our Duke and Durham community—including your peers, faculty, staff, our neighbors—will result in that person losing the opportunity to remain on campus.”

For those students who are planning not to return to campus in the Fall, McMahon and Bennett wrote that faculty and academic leaders are working to ensure that classes are “maximally engaging and inclusive.” They added that teams are working to ensure “meaningful opportunities” for students to engage in extracurricular activities virtually.

This is a developing story and will be updated as more information becomes available.

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