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'The mood is not great': Students worry about productivity, mental health after first day of weeklong lockdown

Duke’s week under lockdown has begun. 

Students described the first day under new restrictions on campus life as lonely and said that they are worried about their productivity and mental health during the week ahead. 

“I feel like there’s this cloud over campus,” sophomore Sydney Hunt said, describing it as a similar feeling to when she was among the last students on campus in the spring of 2020. Hunt wondered whether Duke’s “stay-in-place” order could foreshadow students being sent home, which happened at a similar time last spring.

“It kind of feels like nothing is happening,” Hunt said.

Sophomore Jenna White agreed, and said that the sudden absence of life on campus Sunday was a shocking juxtaposition to the hordes of students enjoying the sunshine on the Bryan Center plaza and West Campus quads during the past several days.

Sophomore Jack Hager said that on his walk from the Hollows Quad to the Brodhead Center to get breakfast, he only saw one other person. “It felt like a ghost town outside. It was definitely a somber atmosphere on campus today.”

The stay-in-place order applies to undergraduates and includes a move to remote classes and a 9 p.m. curfew. Students living on campus can only leave their residences—and students living off campus can only come to campus—for essential activities. Students may gather on campus outside in groups of up to three, but they can’t eat together.

Duke’s administration has said the restrictions were necessary because of a spike in cases largely caused by recruitment by selective groups. 

Many students expressed concerns about their ability to be productive given the disruption of their usual routine. Hunt said that she usually prefers to do her work in various places around campus rather than in her room, so she is concerned about her ability to focus during the upcoming week.

Junior Akshara Anand, who moved into Kilgo quad in January after being away from Duke for the fall semester, echoed Hunt’s concerns about a loss of productivity during the lockdown. She said that she already felt unproductive during the first day as she tried to get work done. 

“It feels like we’re just supposed to be as productive as usual,” she said. “I have so much work this week, I think everyone does. And I haven’t received any messaging from professors or any extensions for deadlines or anything. It feels like we’re just expected to continue as normal.”

Anand said that getting meals with friends outside is usually one of the best parts of her days and helps her be more productive during the chunks of time that she focuses on her homework. Like Hunt, Anand prefers to take advantage of several different study spots on campus, most of which are now closed.

Hunt, Anand and Hager all said that they enjoy working out in Wilson gym in order to relieve stress, and are disappointed that they won’t be able to access the facility this week.

First-year Calib Perez, a member of Duke’s football team, said the team was still allowed to practice today, but the players had to remain socially distanced. If not for the stay-in-place order, practice would have looked more like a “normal football practice,” he said. 

Perez said the Washington Duke Inn, which is home to many of Duke’s athletes, was “very, very quiet today. It was kind of eerie.”

He said he thinks that most athletes do a good job following safety precautions, in part because their coaches serve as an extra level of enforcement. 

“If they can’t trust us following these directions, how can they trust us playing on the field?” Perez said. 

Junior Camden Nelson, who lives off campus in Durham, said that her own life won’t be strongly affected by the restrictions. However, she said that they have made her and her friends pay more attention to high rates of COVID-19 among members of the Duke community. 

“A lot of my friends want to really not go out this week at all. It really brought our attention to the fact that there were way more cases than we originally thought,” Nelson said.

Nelson said that she thinks this week will be tough for many students living on campus, so she is making an extra effort to check in with them. 

“I think that being in isolation is going to be really hard for people’s mental health this week. I’ve made sure to connect with freshmen and sophomores that I know are on-campus and going to be in lockdown, and I’m trying to schedule Zoom meetings and dinners,” Nelson said. 

While the students living on-campus are most concerned about their productivity during the coming week, they feel hopeful that students will comply with regulations and case numbers will fall. 

“The optimistic side of me says it might be this week, it might be next week, but I’m really hoping that we can get back to normalcy in a week or two,” Anand said. 

Administrators wrote in their announcement of the order that they would provide an update on campus conditions on Thursday. 

Anand said that she is planning to make an effort to stay connected with her friends through virtual study sessions and outdoor walks.

Hager agreed, saying that he is “cautiously optimistic” about the restrictions lasting only one or two weeks. Hager also said that he thinks on-campus students will take the rules seriously, for the most part. He said that he plans to go on runs outside and find other safe ways to break up his days and stay focused.

“I’m feeling a little disappointed, but I’m going to try to keep the spirits up by getting outside as much as I can,” Hager said. “Definitely I would say the mood is not great going into this week, just because there’s not too much to look forward to beside class.”


Anna Zolotor | News Editor

Anna Zolotor is a Trinity junior and news editor of The Chronicle's 117th volume.

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