All undergraduate, graduate and professional classes will be remote until Jan. 18, per a Friday morning email to students, faculty and staff from Provost Sally Kornbluth; Mary Pat McMahon, Vice President and vice provost for student affairs; and Gary Bennett, vice provost for undergraduate education.
Duke originally moved classes online from Jan. 5 to Jan. 8, with in-person classes slated to begin Jan. 10. Now, until Jan. 18, no in-person or hybrid classes—which contain a mix of in-person and online instruction—will be permitted.
McMahon told The Chronicle in a Friday afternoon email that Duke will begin the semester by having students who test positive for COVID-19 isolate in The Lodge and Lancaster Commons, the isolation spaces Duke has used in the past. Once these facilities are near capacity, Duke will have students isolate in their dorm rooms, and only on-campus students with pre-existing medical conditions will isolate in The Lodge and Lancaster Commons.
McMahon wrote that students living in on-campus dorms with roommates should have conversations about in-room masking and what to do if one roommate tests positive while the other roommate awaits test results.
"It's highly likely that by the time we learn that one roommate is positive, the other roommate is also positive," McMahon wrote.
McMahon added that one strategy might be for roommates to stagger their return times to Durham if possible.
Nearly 100% of students living on campus are vaccinated, according to McMahon, "so the risk of students getting very sick from [the Omicron variant] is much lower than when we had an unvaccinated residential community." She wrote that this is one reason Duke is mandating that students get the COVID-19 booster shot: "to boost students' immunity and reduce the severity of symptoms from Omicron."
In addition, on-campus dining will be “grab-and-go” with no indoor dining permitted until Jan. 18.
Residence halls will still open Jan. 2, but students living on campus are “strongly encouraged” to delay their return to campus to a time between Jan. 3 and Jan. 18, per the email. All students must still comply with previously outlined testing protocols before and after arriving on campus.
Priority for early entry testing from Jan. 3 to Jan. 5 will be given to graduate and professional students “to facilitate their return to clinical- and lab-based studies and research,” administrators wrote.
All Duke facilities will remain open, and events and activities may continue as originally scheduled at the discretion of the sponsoring department or unit, per the email. However, Duke Recreation & Physical Education announced Dec. 23 that their facilities will be closed Dec. 31 through Jan. 9.
The changes are due to Duke's infectious disease and public health experts anticipating that "a large number of students will test positive during campus entry next week" and that "positive test results, isolation periods and caregiving responsibilities affecting our faculty and staff will have an impact on campus operations and services as the semester begins."
The email noted that Duke has observed an "incredibly high number" of positive COVID-19 cases across their workforce this week and "increasing numbers" among students who have already arrived back in Durham.
“This is an uncertain time for all of us,” administrators wrote. “We have to make decisions with the best information we have, and that sometimes means quick and potentially disruptive changes."
As now, Friday’s announcement does not have an impact on any gameday COVID procedures for men’s or women’s basketball games, team spokespersons told The Chronicle. Current protocol is to show proof of a negative test upon entry or proof of vaccination, as well as keep a mask on unless actively eating or drinking.
There is a home women’s game scheduled for Jan. 2 and a men’s game scheduled for Jan. 4. An earlier email sent to students stated that students must complete their sequester period by receiving notification of a negative test to attend the Jan. 4 men's basketball game.
Editor's note: The original Friday morning email from administrators said that students who test positive for COVID-19 will now isolate in their dorm rooms, and the University will now reserve dedicated isolation space in The Lodge and Lancaster Commons to students living on campus with pre-existing medical conditions. McMahon told The Chronicle Friday afternoon that this will only occur once the off-campus isolation spaces are near capacity.
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Leah Boyd is a Pratt junior and editor-in-chief of The Chronicle's 117th volume.