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Duke distributes KN95 masks to on-site students, faculty and staff following new masking recommendations

<p>An N95 mask.</p>

An N95 mask.

Researchers now recommend KN95 and N95 masks over cloth masks. So where does Duke stand on the matter?

“We are encouraging the use of well-fitting, high-quality masks (N95, KN95 or three-ply surgical masks) in the classroom at this point. Duke is distributing KN95 masks through schools and departments to on-site faculty, staff and students this week,” Vice President for Administration Kyle Cavanaugh wrote in an email to The Chronicle.

The recommendation comes as the Omicron variant continues to spread in North Carolina and nationwide. Duke has also seen an increase in positive COVID-19 tests—over 1,000 students have tested positive for COVID-19 since entry testing began Jan. 3, with 45% of recent cases being identified through entry testing, 30% through surveillance testing and 20% through symptomatic testing, according to Cavanaugh.

The University has not announced an official requirement for a specific type of mask, but communications to students who test positive for COVID-19 include recommendations to wear KN95s around other people. School of Medicine Dean Mary Klotman recently said that it is “reasonable to recommend more effective masking, like tighter-fitting masks such as N95s and K95s” that “offer a higher degree of protection than cloth masks” in the face of the Omicron variant. 

Housing and Residence Life announced a plan to distribute KN95 masks to on-campus students on Jan. 13, initially planning for students to pick them up from Keohane Atrium before deciding to distribute them through resident assistants and residence coordinators. The change was to prioritize getting masks to students before the first day of in-person classes on Jan. 18, HRL Dean Deb LoBiondo wrote in a Friday email to The Chronicle.

The masks were purchased by the University and may be distributed at testing sites in the future, LoBiondo wrote. 

On Tuesday afternoon, Student Affairs announced that off campus students could pick up KN95 masks at the Washington Duke Inn and Bryan Center Landing testing sites until Jan. 28 or until supply runs out. Students must directly request a mask from testing site staff.

Mary Pat McMahon, vice president and vice provost for student affairs, wrote in a Monday evening email to The Chronicle that a team in Student Affairs worked to identify pick-up locations on East and West Campuses.

“We started with on-campus students last week just because we had to start somewhere and we know off-campus students will be back on West and East in the next few days,” McMahon wrote.

For now, Duke will only provide one mask to each student. Cavanaugh wrote that the University plans to continue distributing masks in the future but did not give specific plans.

Duke is not the only Triangle university to shift to stronger masks—North Carolina Central University is officially requiring students and faculty to wear KN95s during classes and cloth masks are no longer acceptable in campus buildings. On Monday, Lamar Richards, student body president at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, announced that UNC’s student government had acquired 10,000 KN95 and N95 masks to distribute on campus.


Nadia Bey | Digital Strategy Director

Nadia Bey is a Trinity senior and digital strategy director for The Chronicle’s 118th volume. She was previously managing editor for Volume 117.

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