Duke University undergrads ordered to stay in place all week as Covid-19 cases spike

Officials at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, issued a stay-in-place order for all undergraduate students through next Sunday. - Gerry Broome/AP

Originally Published: 14 MAR 21 12:00 ET

By Kay Jones, CNN

    (CNN) -- Duke University officials issued a stay-in-place order for all undergraduate students through next Sunday as the school tries to combat a rapidly escalating number of Covid-19 cases.

In a letter sent to students on Saturday, officials at the Durham, North Carolina, university said that more than 180 students have tested positive for Covid-19 and are in isolation, while another 200 are under in quarantine based on contact tracing.

The spike in cases is "principally driven by students attending recruitment parties for selective living groups," the letter said. This is the largest one-week total of positive cases and quarantines since the pandemic began, officials said.

All courses will shift to remote learning and students living on campus must stay in their room or apartment at all times outside of essential activities, such as getting food or for health or safety reasons. Off-campus students are not permitted on campus other than to participate in surveillance testing, seek medical care or to pick up food orders.

The Duke outbreak is a fresh example of the pandemic's ongoing danger, even as daily new Covid-19 cases continue to decline and millions get vaccinated. The outbreak has even reached into the storied men's basketball team, which withdrew from the ACC tournament on Thursday after a positive case in the program.

"If this feels serious, it's because it is," the letter says. "The restriction of student movement -- coupled with a renewed dedication to following social distancing, masking, symptom monitoring and other public health guidelines -- gives us the best path toward curtailing further spread. Violations of these requirements will be considered a violation of the Duke Compact and will be treated as such; flagrant and repeated violations will be grounds for suspension or withdrawal from Duke."

The letter was signed by Associate Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students John Blackshear, Vice Provost of Undergraduate Education Gary Bennett and Vice Provost of Student Affairs Mary Pat McMahon.

The letter says the ability to finish the semester and have a commencement for those graduating is "hanging in the balance." Duke officials will provide an update to the order on March 18, it says.

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