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[UPDATED] Duke limits Fall housing to first-years and sophomores, scaling back reopening plans

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Update: This story was updated at 6:24 p.m. Sunday to include information from President Vincent Price’s message to the Duke community.

Duke is limiting on-campus Fall housing to first-years, sophomores and students with special circumstances in a step back from its original reopening plan, according to Sunday messages from Provost Sally Kornbluth and President Vincent Price.

In a Sunday morning email to faculty, Kornbluth outlined a new Fall plan that limits on-campus undergraduate housing to first-years, sophomores and students who have “personal or academic circumstances that require campus housing and who have been approved for residence by Student Affairs.”

Juniors and seniors will have priority for Spring semester housing if public health conditions remain the same, Kornbluth wrote in the email, a copy of which was obtained by The Chronicle. First-years and sophomores will also be on campus in the Spring if conditions improve. 

Price announced the changes to the wider Duke community in a Sunday afternoon message.

He wrote that students living off campus will be able to attend classes in person, but that “it is likely that all students, regardless of their location, will complete much of their course work remotely.” All students can take online classes in the Fall, he wrote.

Juniors and seniors living off campus will be able to use “certain Duke facilities (like libraries and laboratories), but only for approved academic purposes (e.g., senior theses),” Kornbluth wrote in her email. “Students living off-campus will not be able to access residence halls, dining areas or social spaces.”

Price wrote that students who need on-campus housing because of personal or academic circumstances can request it at the Keep Learning website starting Monday at noon.

Duke is planning to expand residential Summer Sessions next year, Price wrote, to provide an on-campus experience for students who are not able to come to Durham during the upcoming academic year, or who choose not to do so.

Limiting on-campus housing under the new plan will reduce Duke’s undergraduate residential population by about 30%, according to Kornbluth’s message.

“As you know, our goal has been to start the fall semester with as many students as we could safely accommodate on campus,” she wrote,” “We have also been continuously monitoring the spread of COVID-19 across the country as well as the significant increase in prevalence in both North Carolina and Durham, and we are concerned about the negative trends.”

The decision to limit the on-campus population came “after consultation with our faculty experts in infectious disease, epidemiology and clinical care,” Kornbluth wrote. 

She noted in her email that “a large majority” of faculty have currently opted to teach remotely.

“Graduate and professional schools are also reviewing their plans and the deans will be communicating directly with faculty and students about any changes,” she wrote.

Kornbluth’s email, sent hours before Price’s message, stated that an announcement to students, parents and staff would come Monday. But Judith Kelley, dean of the Sanford School of Public Policy, wrote in a Sunday morning email to Sanford faculty and staff—a copy of which was obtained by The Chronicle—that the announcement had been moved up to later Sunday.

Asked Sunday morning about a draft of Kornbluth’s message included in Kelley’s email, Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for public affairs and government relations, wrote in a message to The Chronicle that “work is still ongoing and more information will be available shortly.”

The change comes about three weeks before the scheduled start of Fall undergraduate classes Aug. 17. Kornbluth’s email states that undergraduates will move in during scheduled windows from Aug. 6-15. 

The move is a step back from Duke’s original plan, which would have allowed juniors and seniors to live on campus during the Fall semester. 

In a May message to students and families, Price wrote that Duke’s goal was “to enable as many of our students who are able and who choose to participate in an on-campus experience for the fall semester to do so, but only if it can be done safely.” 

The plan announced at the time included an early start to the Fall semester and a late start to the Spring semester, with no fall or spring breaks. 

Duke announced in June that it had acquired space in the Washington Duke Inn and the Blue Light apartments to house juniors and seniors, and added the Avana apartments this month. Upperclass students applied for on-campus housing last month.  

Price reiterated the initial reopening plan June 30, despite rising concerns over COVID-19 in North Carolina 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 in the June 30 message.

In both his May and June messages, Price noted that plans were subject to change due to public health conditions and other factors. 

The day after the June 30 message, as COVID-19 cases surged in many parts of the country, the University of Southern California announced that it was reversing its previous decision to reopen campus to all undergraduates. 

Instead, USC will conduct 80% to 90% of classes online and limit on-campus housing. Other schools followed suit in changing their fall plans. 

Price acknowledged the surge in cases in his Sunday message.

“It is sadly clear that the persistence and spread of COVID-19 are trending in the wrong direction nationally, in North Carolina, and in Durham; and based on the latest guidance from Duke medical experts and public officials, we anticipate that matters may worsen in the weeks ahead,” he wrote. “In light of these worrisome conditions and to address the increased prevalence of the coronavirus, we must further reduce the density of our campus residential population.”

Kornbluth’s email includes updated information about Duke’s COVID-19 testing policies for the Fall. Students will be asked to be tested before arriving on campus, if possible, and self-quarantine for 14 days before they come to Durham, she wrote.

Undergraduates will be tested upon arrival, whether they are living on or off campus, and will not have their DukeCard activated until they are tested. Kornbluth wrote that graduate and professional students will also be tested on arrival, and those who will take classes or do research on campus must be tested before their cards are activated.

On-campus students, graduate students who come to campus for class or work, and some staff will participate in “surveillance testing on a frequent basis throughout the semester, to allow identification and quarantine of infected individuals,” Kornbluth wrote. Symptomatic students, faculty and staff will be tested as well. 

Price wrote in his message that Duke will use pooled community testing to identify outbreaks among students, as well as faculty and staff who are in frequent contact with students. 

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that undergraduates' DukeCards would not be activated until test results came back negative. It has been updated to reflect that cards will be activated after students are tested. The Chronicle regrets the error.

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

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