April 18, 2024


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Duke plans mass COVID-19 testing and mix of in-person and online classes this fall

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Duke University is planning to bring students, faculty and staff back to campus in August with new safety precautions, including mass COVID-19 testing, adjusted classroom layouts and revised housing options in dorms and hotels.

The school also announced the plan for its student-athletes to return to campus, beginning with football players on July 12.

The news comes as state health officials say they are concerned about the recent increase in COVID-19 cases among younger adults.

“While the trends we see today are concerning,” Duke president Vince Price said in a statement, “we believe that the many safety precautions we are putting in place will allow us to responsibly continue along the path towards opening Duke’s fall 2020 semester on campus in August. We ask all members of the Duke community — students, parents, faculty and staff — to recognize and accept that we may need to change our plans based on public health and other considerations.”

Durham County has recorded 3,674 lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19, making it No. 3 among the state’s 100 counties. Only Mecklenburg (11,170) and Wake (5,060), the state’s most populous counties, have had more COVID-19 cases.

Durham’s ratio of cases per 10,000 residents is 116, compared to Mecklenburg’s 102 and Wake’s 46.

But the county has been able to slow the virus’ spread during June. On June 12, the seven-day average of new cases added per day was 84.2. With Tuesday’s update from the state’s Department of Health and Human Services, the daily average over the past seven days is down to 66.4.

Duke’s athletics plan

While athletes at UNC and N.C. State returned to campus for workouts in June, Duke has yet to allow its athletes to return since Price suspended the university’s athletics on March 12.

Price’s move preceded the ACC’s decision to cancel its men’s basketball tournament that same day.

On Wednesday, the school announced the football players will return first, followed by women’s soccer on July 21 and volleyball on July 27. Two days later on July 29, Duke’s field hockey, men’s and women’s cross country and men’s soccer will be allowed to return.

Duke’s men’s and women’s basketball players can return to campus on Aug. 2.

Once back on campus at Duke, the athletes must adhere to the recommended guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state health experts aimed at slowing the coronavirus spread. That includes social distancing, wearing face coverings and frequent hand washing. Indoor facilities, like team meeting rooms, will be disinfected regularly.

As athletes have returned to campuses around the country, COVID-19 outbreaks have occurred. Clemson announced last Friday that 47 of its athletes had tested positive for COVID-19, including 37 football players. Four Clemson staff members had also contracted the virus.

Changes to classrooms and housing options

In May, Duke decided the fall semester will start early on Aug. 17 and run through Thanksgiving without a fall break to minimize the risk of travel. That plan still stands.

First-year students will move into dorms on East and West Campus that are designated first-year student spaces. They will move in in phases beginning the week of Aug. 10. Returning students living in Duke housing will be assigned to West Campus and in nearby hotels and apartment buildings.

Duke expects all students living in on-campus or off-campus housing to stay in the Durham area throughout the semester.

All students living on campus will be tested for COVID-19 before they can attend classes this fall. And all students, faculty and staff will do daily health checks and everyone will be required to wear face masks in classrooms and around campus. Those classrooms will be adjusted to ensure physical distancing and have smaller class sizes.

Classes will be taught in four different ways, including face-to-face in newly configured classrooms and other spaces on campus that follow physical distancing guidelines. They will also be offered online with a regular meeting time in a live video setting, and as a hybrid with a combination of face to face and online. The fourth option is “online asynchronous,” in which students watch recorded lectures and then participate in discussion and lab work online.

Faculty will not be required to teach on campus if they have concerns about their health and safety, and they won’t be forced to disclose those personal health concerns, according to the university.

Duke’s updated plans are not final, though, as the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread.

“Again, let me emphasize: we all know that COVID-19 presents a rapidly changing set of circumstances in North Carolina and across the country,” Price said. “We will continue to monitor the situation closely and make adjustments to this plan as required by public health conditions and state and local regulations.”

Duke is also planning the spring semester to begin a week late on Jan. 19 and run through April 26 without a spring break.

What are other universities doing this fall?

Students and faculty at UNC Chapel Hill will be back on campus this fall for in-person instruction early, with classes starting Aug. 10. Final exams will end by Nov. 24, which is two days before Thanksgiving.

UNC-CH launched a website with more details about the changes to campus life, including smaller class sizes, three feet physical distancing between desks in classroom and requiring face masks. Some students and faculty have expressed concerns about returning to campus and say in-person classes are not the safest option.

N.C. State University students and faculty will also begin the fall semester on Aug. 10, nine days earlier than originally scheduled. There will be no fall break, and finals will take place before Thanksgiving. There will be a mix of online, in-person and hybrid classes, but the schedule and delivery methods for each course have not been finalized, according to the university.

N.C. State is preparing its classrooms and bus system to accommodate the 36,000 students who will be on campus this fall. Class sizes will be smaller, with spaced out seating arrangements in classrooms, auditoriums and labs. The university is also installing Plexiglas barriers in some spaces for faculty to stand behind while teaching.

Wake Forest University will start on-campus instruction for undergraduate students on Aug. 26 and end Nov. 24. There will be no fall break. Final exams will be remote following a Thanksgiving break.

Wake Forest will offer a mix of face-to-face and online classes, but expects about half of undergraduate courses to be in-person with everyone wearing face masks. Residence halls will be open at reduced capacity and the majority of rooms will be single-occupancy.

Several other North Carolina colleges and universities have adjusted their academic calendars and classrooms and will require face masks for students, faculty and visitors in an effort to make campus safe this fall.

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