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As students move in, here’s what life at Duke will look like amid a pandemic

<p>&nbsp;Undergraduate move-in is taking place over more than a week this year to allow for pandemic safety measures. Students will be subject to a wide range of safety restrictions once they are on campus.&nbsp;</p>

 Undergraduate move-in is taking place over more than a week this year to allow for pandemic safety measures. Students will be subject to a wide range of safety restrictions once they are on campus. 

Students began to move in last week for a semester like no other.

Duke is moving ahead with reopening amid the coronavirus pandemic, but life on campus will look little like it did before. Only first-years, sophomores and a small number of juniors and seniors can live in Duke housing. Those students who do have housing—as well as off-campus students who plan to come to Duke for class or other purposes—must follow numerous regulations intended to stop the spread of the virus at Duke.

What are the rules?

All community members have to sign the Duke Compact, a pledge that lays out expectations for life at Duke during the pandemic. First announced in May and sent to the community last week, it includes everything from distancing rules to an agreement to comply with Duke’s testing, tracing and isolation procedures. 

The safety measures Duke has put in place this year include:

  • Face coverings are required on campus. There are some exceptions, like while alone in confined rooms such as offices and dorm rooms, while eating or drinking and while in outdoor areas where it’s easy to maintain social distance, according to the return to Duke website
  • Community members must wash hands often, with soap and water and for at least 20 seconds, or use hand sanitizer when soap and water aren’t available, according to the website.
  • Six feet of social distance are required. Exceptions for students may include roommates, according to Duke’s Undergraduate Student COVID-19 Policy Plan.
  • Only currently enrolled Duke students and some staff are allowed in residence halls, with exceptions for move-in, according to the policy plan. Only residents of a specific building or quad, and some staff, can be there from midnight to 10 a.m.
  • On-campus, student-hosted gatherings are currently limited to 10 people or fewer, according to the policy plan.

All students have to be tested upon returning to campus, whether living in Duke housing or off campus, and must sequester at their residence until they receive their results. Students in Duke housing, graduate students who come to campus for class or work, and faculty and staff who frequently interact with students will be subject to pool testing throughout the semester to monitor for cases of the virus. 

Students living in the Durham area and faculty and staff who regularly visit campus have to complete a daily symptom-monitoring survey on an app called SymMon. Community members also have to comply with contact tracing efforts. 

Faculty, staff and off-campus students who need to quarantine or isolate during the semester will be expected to do so at home.

Students who live in Duke housing and need to be quarantined or isolated will be moved to East House or Jarvis dorms on East Campus. Duke also has quarantine and isolation capacity in the recently purchased Lodge at Duke Medical Center hotel, giving the University a total of more than 250 quarantine beds.

The pandemic will reshape nearly every aspect of campus life this semester. Classes will take place in a mix of in-person, online and hybrid models. Dining options will be different, with Duke bringing in food trucks and adjusting hours and physical spaces at campus eateries. All student events will initially be virtual, and student groups have had to reconsider their programming to make the shift.

What happens when students violate policies? 

Students who violate COVID-19 policies may be referred to the Office of Student Conduct, according to the undergraduate policy plan, and punishments may include “removal from on-campus housing, loss of access to campus, privilege of attending courses in-person, suspension, or expulsion from the institution.” 

Duke has established an anonymous hotline and several other avenues for students to report behavior that violates the rules or puts people at risk, according to the policy plan. 

“Let us be clear—we are taking student behavioral conduct seriously, and flagrant violations of our COVID-19 student expectations will jeopardize your status as a Duke student,” wrote Clay Adams, associate dean of students, and Jeanna McCullers, senior associate dean of students and director of the OSC, in a Friday email to undergraduates. 

Duke’s Keep Learning website notes that “in cases where students forget or make mistakes, students may need reminders in order to adhere to health guidance. Interventions in these circumstances will be designed to help students remember and adhere to safety guidance going forward.”

Will Duke send students home again?

One question weighs on the minds of the community: Will Duke send students home again, as in March when the coronavirus first began to spread?

According to the reopening FAQ published July 26, that’s a “last resort.” If conditions worsened, Duke would first go into a “shelter in place” mode, moving all classes online, canceling activities and restricting access to campus buildings.

A lockdown at Duke would be safer for students, families and the University community at large, said Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for public affairs and government relations.

“I would say sending people home, dispersing them around the country, around the world, will be the last resort,” Schoenfeld said. 

Why can’t all students return?

After Duke first closed campus to most students in March, it was a long road to reopening. 

In May, President Vincent Price wrote in an email to students and families that Duke would be open in the fall. Schoenfeld confirmed to The Chronicle at the time that some number of students would return to campus, but that the number of students to return and the academic calendar would be announced by the end of June. 

Later that month, Price wrote in a message to students and families that Duke aimed “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.” 

He also announced changes to the academic calendar, including beginning fall classes Aug. 17—a week earlier than planned—and starting Spring 2021 classes a week late, with no fall or spring breaks. 

Price reiterated the original reopening plan at the end of June, though he noted “concerning” trends in the spread of the virus. In both his May and June messages, he wrote that plans were subject to change based on public health conditions and other factors.

Upperclass students applied for housing in June, and over the summer Duke acquired space for juniors and seniors to live in the Blue Light and Avana apartments and the Washington Duke Inn to reduce density in campus housing. 

Then, after a rise in coronavirus cases in North Carolina and many parts of the country, Duke moved in late July to further reduce density. This time, that meant reducing the number of students who could live at Duke. 

Only first-years and sophomores could live in Duke housing for the fall semester, Price announced July 26, as well as juniors and seniors with special circumstances. 

Juniors and seniors will have priority for spring housing, and if they have off-campus housing in Durham they can come to campus for class and some other academic purposes. If conditions improve, first-years and sophomores will live on campus in the spring as well. 

The move came about three weeks before the start of the fall semester, throwing juniors and seniors’ plans into disarray. Even though Duke encouraged them to stay home and take online classes, some sought off-campus housing for reasons from keeping jobs to seeing friends again and getting out of their parents’ houses. 

Henry Haggart contributed reporting. 

Matthew Griffin

Matthew Griffin was editor-in-chief of The Chronicle's 116th volume.


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