Education

Duke reports first student coronavirus cluster

Posted October 16, 2020 8:53 a.m. EDT
Updated October 16, 2020 7:33 p.m. EDT

— Duke University on Friday reported its first coronavirus cluster among students, at an off-campus apartment complex.

Nine students who live at the Solis Brightleaf Apartments, at 1005 W. Main St. in Durham, have tested positive since Oct. 7, university officials said.

"Obviously, it is concerning because it’s a cluster, but remember that the numbers we are talking about here are pretty small," Duke spokesman Michael Schoenfeld said. "This is something that we had anticipated, that we had prepared for, and that we activated all of the procedures."

The first infected student was identified through Duke's testing program and immediately placed in quarantine, Schoenfeld said.

"Our contact tracing operation went into full swing ... and identified a group of students for quarantine," he said, adding that seven of the other infected students were already in quarantine when their positive tests were reported.

The final positive test was for "an individual who actually had been connected to this particular group," he said.

"It shows how quickly COVID can spread in a small group," he said. "All of the Duke students who are living in that complex are going to be tested now on a more regular basis."

Free coronavirus tests are available at Duke Health's downtown testing center, officials said.

Solis Brightleaf isn't on Duke's campus or owned by the university, but Duke students make up a quarter of the residents, according to officials.

Schoenfeld said Duke didn't notify the public about the cluster, as some other universities have done, because it was off campus. Instead, officials contacted "a pretty broad swath of individuals" who might be at risk.

"The group that was most potentially impacted was alerted earlier this week. All the students who lived in Solis and, obviously, those through contact tracing were notified," he said.

Duke freshman Mark Kabai, who lives on campus, said he was disappointed university officials didn't notify the public about the cluster. He said he wasn't aware of it until he spoke with WRAL News on Friday.

"I think transparency from the university is really important," Kabai said. "I think a lot of kids here, especially among us freshmen, we’re really concerned about our own health and safety. We take it really seriously on campus, I think."

Schoenfeld said he's unaware of any non-student residents of Solis Brightleaf who have been infected, adding that "since they're not students, they wouldn’t be in our system."

Apartment complex managers said they are working closely with Duke and the Durham County Health Department to halt the spread of the virus.

"We’ve conducted a deep cleaning of our public spaces and closed our amenities in the near term, along with reinforcing the importance of mask wearing and social distancing throughout our property," managers said in a statement. "Nothing is more important than the health and safety of our residents, and we’re grateful for their cooperation."

Duke's routine testing program has found five to 15 coronavirus cases per week among students, Schoenfeld said, noting about 15,000 tests are conducted each week.

"Those numbers, in comparison to other institutions of our size around the country, are, I think, pretty good, but that’s not something you want to necessarily take to the bank," he said.

Kabai said not having a cluster of cases had been "a point of pride for us."

"A lot of our friends, my friends from other schools, were being sent home because of cases on their campus," he said. "I think Duke, even though it hasn’t been transparent about this, it will take steps to make sure it doesn’t spread too much."

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