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Academic Council discusses Cameron Indoor, Delta variant, vaccination rates at Thursday meeting

<p>Faculty members discussed COVID-19 updates at Thursday's Academic Council meeting.&nbsp;</p>

Faculty members discussed COVID-19 updates at Thursday's Academic Council meeting. 

The numbers are looking good in Duke’s fight against COVID-19, according to an update from the University’s coronavirus modeling team during a Thursday Academic Council meeting. 

More than 16,000 students are fully vaccinated, and the student body is considered fully compliant with the University’s vaccination requirements, according to Vice President of Administration Kyle Cavanaugh.

More than 95% of the University’s faculty and staff are vaccinated as well. Faculty and staff are required to show proof of vaccination by Oct. 1 as a condition of employment. A total of 43,196 Duke faculty and staff are vaccinated between the University and Health system. 

Given the University-wide COVID protocol compliance, many in the Duke community are wondering how basketball games will look this year.

“How do you anticipate handling Cameron Indoor Stadium crowds?” asked Professor of Medicine Harvey Cohen. “I’m thinking it sounds hard to distance.” 

“It’s a small, dense stadium—that’s what makes it great. But that’s also not ideal in this situation,” said Associate Professor of Medicine Cameron Wolfe. “We’ve already been going back and reevaluating the ventilation system. … What worked for the players last year up until March Madness is that they were masked and spaced, and they didn’t have the chance to be vaccinated, whereas I think there’s a really great opportunity here for letting people in who are vaccinated. We should lead in that regard.” 

In the past week, the University’s coronavirus testing tracker reported 30 positive cases out of 21,000 tests administered among students, faculty and staff.

“Our COVID-19 protocols, disruptive as they have certainly been at times, they’ve allowed us to keep moving forward. And despite the renewed challenges of the Delta variant, we’re in a significantly better position this fall, certainly compared with last year,” said President Vincent Price. 

While the University had a surge of 364 COVID-19 cases among students, faculty and staff during the first week of classes, the number of positive test results are now trending downwards

“A lot of credit to our undergraduate and graduate students who complied incredibly well here that we saw a very quick reduction in cases,” Cavanaugh said. 

At one point, there were 259 students on campus in isolation, Cavanaugh said. The current total is 19. 

“Virtually this entire population—nearly 100%—is fully vaccinated. The majority of these cases are either asymptomatic or have very, very mild symptoms.” Cavanaugh said. 

He added that the latest cases have all been from the Delta variant. 

Guidance from the FDA will help determine when Duke will start providing booster shots to faculty, students or staff, according to Wolfe. 

He expects the University to suggest “very soon that a booster is relevant for people over the age of 65, relevant for folks who are on the frontline of healthcare, and then potentially relevant for students and teachers alike.”

Indoor masking will be kept in place for the foreseeable future, he added. 

“You’ll see that'll be one of the last things that I think we pull back on is things, hopefully, as things ease away,” Wolfe said. 

The University has also benefited from a rigorous pooled testing program. Duke has conducted about 650,000 COVID-19 tests since it first instituted the program, according to Professor in Medicine Thomas Denny. 

Currently, all residential undergraduates, regardless of vaccination status, are being tested twice a week, according to data presented by the University modeling team. Duke was the only university to commit early on to testing vaccinated student populations, according to Professor of Biology Steven Haase. 

To prepare for the fall semester, the University drew not only from its faculty modeling team, but also from Durham County and North Carolina Departments of Public Health, the Centers for Disease Control, peer institutions and even the National Basketball Association, Cavanaugh said. 

The percentage of weekly COVID-19 cases at Duke is also lower than that of Durham or Wake County: 0.09% compared to 0.3% in Durham County and 0.2% in Wake, according to Haase. Those numbers are likely underestimated for Durham and Wake due to the lack of asymptomatic testing and symptomatic vaccinated testing at the county level, Haase said. 


Chris Kuo | Enterprise Editor

Chris Kuo is a Trinity junior and enterprise editor of The Chronicle's 117th volume.

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