May 19, 2022

COVID cases rise at Duke University despite vaccine mandate

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Duke University students travel through the Durham, N.C. campus during class change on Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2021.

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Duke University has set new restrictions to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 as cases are rising on the Durham campus despite its vaccine mandate.

In the first week of classes, 304 undergraduates, 45 graduate students and 15 employees tested positive for COVID-19. All but eight of these individuals were vaccinated, and the vast majority of them are asymptomatic. A small number have minor, cold- and flu-like symptoms, and none have been hospitalized, according to the university.

Duke administrators announced the new guidelines in an email saying “this surge is placing significant stress on the people, systems and facilities that are dedicated to protecting our health, safety and the ability of Duke to fulfill its educational mission, particularly our isolation space for on-campus students who test positive.”

New COVID rules on campus

The rules include:

Masks are required on the Duke campus in all indoor and outdoor locations, unless individuals are exercising alone, eating or drinking, or otherwise not around others.

Indoor group seating at campus dining facilities is temporarily suspended. Students and employees have also been advised to eat outdoors as much as possible.

Professors can teach their undergraduate classes remotely for the next two weeks. (This option is due to absences from the number of students in isolation, not spread in classrooms.)

Student activities will be limited.

All Duke employees must be vaccinated.

All Duke students are required to be vaccinated this fall, unless they received a religious or medical exemption. Duke employees must get a COVID-19 vaccine and show proof by Oct. 1 or they’ll be fired.

As of Aug. 30, Duke reported 98% of students and 92% of employees are fully vaccinated.

Unvaccinated students have to participate in surveillance testing two times per week, and vaccinated students have to get tested at least once per week.

Duke tested more than 15,000 individuals in the past week and reported 364 cases, with a positivity rate of 1.59%, according to its COVID-19 testing tracker dashboard. The university reported 610 total cases this month, mostly among students.

University leaders have said the rise in cases among those who are vaccinated is in line with the rapid surge of COVID-19 cases locally and nationally as a result of the delta variant.

More than 600 people signed an online petition Monday calling on Duke administrators to “reverse this unreasonable and illogical policy.”

“This recent guidance goes against the CDC’s current recommendations for vaccinated individuals and demonstrates an utter lack of trust in the developed vaccines,” the petition says.

It also criticizes the university for being “dismissive of the severe physical and mental effects of their continued restrictions” on the student body.

This story was originally published August 30, 2021 2:16 PM.

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Kate Murphy covers higher education for The News & Observer. Previously, she covered higher education for the Cincinnati Enquirer on the investigative and enterprise team and USA Today Network. Her work has won state awards in Ohio and Kentucky and she was recently named a 2019 Education Writers Association finalist for digital storytelling.
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