DURHAM, N.C. — Duke University on Monday extended its mask mandate to outdoor areas on campus as well as inside buildings, following hundreds of coronavirus infections among vaccinated students and staff.
In the last week, 349 students and 15 employees tested positive for the virus, and all but eight were fully vaccinated, Duke officials said in a notice to the campus community. None of them has been hospitalized, and only “a small number” have minor flu-like symptoms.
“We want to be clear: the problem is not our people, the problem is COVID-19. Our Duke community has been extraordinarily united and resilient in fighting, and adapting to, this pandemic over the last 19 months,” officials said in the notice. “And yet, we must continue to do more. This is a time to be prudent, to take care of ourselves and each other.”
In addition to requiring masks outside – unless people are exercising alone, are eating or drinking or aren’t around anyone – new limits will be placed on student activities, officials said without elaborating.
Campus dining facilities have halted indoor seating, and more than 25 tents have been set up on campus for outdoor seating for meals. Also, faculty have the option of shifting their classes to remote instruction for the next two weeks because of the potential for increased absences while infected students are in isolation.
“It’s so hot outside right now that I would prefer to dine indoors, but honestly, I will do what I need to do because I want to stay on campus for this entire year if I can,” freshman Ella Kirksey said. “I’m hoping that this – if they get a little bit stricter – this will keep us from having to go fully online or go home.”
Senior Naira Ikram said she was stunned by the number of infected students. A year ago, only 241 students and staff tested positive for coronavirus during the entire fall semester.
“I don’t know why cases are super high all of the sudden,” Ikram said. “I’m hoping that stopping indoor dining and a lot of indoor gathering might reduce the rate. I hope things don’t go back to what they were last year. It’s been really nice to have a taste of what things were like back in 2019.”
Ninety-eight percent of Duke students and 92 percent of faculty and staff are vaccinated, officials said. The other 8 percent of Duke employees have been given an Oct. 1 deadline to get their shots, and those who don’t will be fired, officials have said.
Duke tests all students at least weekly – unvaccinated students are tested twice a week – and some students said they wonder if similar spikes in numbers of people infected are occurring elsewhere but go unnoticed because of less extensive testing.