Education

As Duke semester ends, students will take an 'exit test' for the coronavirus

Posted November 9, 2020 12:24 p.m. EST
Updated November 9, 2020 6:14 p.m. EST

— With the fall semester scheduled to end before Thanksgiving, students at Duke University and other colleges across the country face the prospect of an extended winter break. The schedule is designed to keep students off campus and facilities closed during the worst of the winter months, to keep them from traveling to and fro in an effort to limit contact and contain the coronavirus.

But before they can head home for the holidays, Duke is asking students for an unusual final exam – an "exit test" for the coronavirus.

Students must notify the university if they develop symptoms or test positive during the break, and all will be required to take a test upon their return to campus.

“Incoming students will have a gateway or entry test. They will have to sequester until they get the results,” said Michael Schoenfeld, Duke vice president for public affairs and government relations and chief communications officer.

Schoenfeld cited student cooperation as the key to keeping cases low.

Regular testing and student compliance with safety protocols has allowed Duke to keep students on campus when other local universities went to all-remote learning at the beginning of the semester.

To date, the university has completed more than 150,000 tests and seen only 187 positive results. Last week, the university tested 15,858 people and returned only 22 positive tests. That includes four undergrads, five graduate students and 13 faculty and staff. All students who tested positive are now in isolation.

“We have worked very closely with our students. This is a partnership," Schoenfeld said.

“Kids have been very cognizant about making sure we stay safe together," said freshman Mark Kabai. “We have not had gatherings, like, outside of our friend groups or our pods. We’ve been observing mask wearing. We’ve been social distancing for the large part."

In a message sent to students on Friday, the university outlined "required actions" for all students during winter break:

  • Wear a mask that covers your nose and mouth; do not share your mask with others.
  • Limit your circle of contacts, and pay attention to who your contacts interact with and who in your circle is particularly at risk to complications from COVID-19 (e.g. those 65 or older, or people with underlying health conditions).
  • Avoid higher-risk settings such as indoor gatherings, places where physical distancing is not possible, activities that involve increased respiratory effort or places or activities where people may be maskless.
  • Practice physical distancing.
  • If you haven’t already, get vaccinated for the flu.
  • Wash your hands regularly, and if that is not possible, use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
  • Rest and spend time doing things that give you life. It’s been a tough semester!

Students have a week (until Nov. 13) to detail their plans, including any when they will leave Durham and where they will spend their break.

The message includes this warning, in bold: "Also, note that all plans for the spring semester are subject to change on short notice based on local and national public health conditions."

“We really want to remain on campus because we love it here," Kabai said. "We want to have the experience of having some in-person classes, have the experience of being with our friends."

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