Duke University on Monday enacted stricter mask and vaccine policies after a surveillance test returned hundreds of positive results for COVID-19 among its overwhelmingly vaccinated student and staff population.
Duke, which required COVID-19 vaccination for all students coming or returning to its Durham, North Carolina, campus this fall, reported that 304 undergraduate students, 45 graduate students, and 15 employees tested positive for the disease in the last week.
All but eight of those individuals were vaccinated, and the “vast majority” are asymptomatic, the university administrators said in a letter to the campus community. “A small number” of them have minor cold- and flu-like symptoms, and none have been hospitalized.
“The good news is that we are able to identify these infections early and quickly, that our near-fully vaccinated student (98 percent) and employee (92 percent) populations are protected from serious illness, and that we continue to see no evidence of transmission in our classrooms and other campus locations where all individuals are masked,” the letter read.
The 364 positive results among 22,932 administered tests makes a positivity rate of 1.59 percent, according to the COVID-19 testing tracker on Duke’s website. The university reported 610 total cases since Aug. 1, mostly among students.
“We cannot stop COVID-19, but what we can do is adapt to our local and national realities and seek to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 on campus,” Duke administrators said.
Among the new restrictive measures announced Monday is a mask requirement in all indoor and outdoor locations, except when alone or eating. Indoor group seating at Duke’s dining facilities will be temporarily suspended, as those services shift to take-out only. There will also be new limitations on student activities, and individuals and groups that violate these to-be-specified limitations will “face disciplinary consequences.”
In addition, Duke now requires COVID-19 vaccination for all faculty and staff as a condition of employment. Professors teaching undergraduate classes will also be allowed to teach remotely for the next two weeks, considering many of their students are not able to attend classes in person while in isolation.
“We want to be clear: the problem is not our people, the problem is COVID-19,” the letter read. “This is a time to be prudent, to take care of ourselves and each other so we can continue our important mission, which is now more important than ever.”
The announcement comes days after Duke’s rival school, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, reported about 200 confirmed cases of COVID-19 over the past week. More than 350 cases have been reported among students and employees throughout August, according to the public university’s website.
Unlike Duke, UNC-Chapel Hill does not have a vaccine mandate, although students who are not vaccinated or decide not to share their vaccination status with the university are required be tested at least once a week for the entire fall semester.