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Duke saw a major spike in COVID-19 cases. Could the same happen at UNC?

The Duke University Chapel on Duke’s West Campus, as photographed in 2017, serves as a symbol of the university.

The Duke University Chapel on Duke’s West Campus, as photographed in 2017, serves as a symbol of the university.

On March 13, Duke University issued a stay-in-place order until March 21 at 9 a.m. after a sudden spike in COVID-19 cases.

“Over the past week more than 180 students are in isolation for a positive COVID 19 test, and an additional 200 students are in quarantine as a result of contact tracing. This is by far the largest one-week number of positive tests and quarantines since the start of the pandemic,” Duke officials said in a letter sent to students on Saturday.

And because UNC is in close proximity to Duke, the University could be put at risk. 

“The people who work and attend at Duke are the same people who mix in society with the people who work and attend at UNC,” said Rachel Graham, assistant professor in the department of epidemiology at the Gillings School of Global Public Health.

Although more vaccines are available and some states are beginning to ease restrictions, Graham said it is important to continue precautions to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

“People think that it's time to relax precautions,” Graham said. “We have to keep precautions in place until we have a herd immunity established.”

Most of the cases at Duke were caused by off-campus "unsanctioned fraternity recruitment events," Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for public affairs, said in a statement on March 14.

But Jonathan Sauls, associate vice chancellor for student affairs at UNC, said he believes Greek organizations at UNC have understood their role in keeping the community safe.

“The Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life continues to meet with leaders in the Greek community throughout the spring semester to address any concerns or questions regarding expectations and adherence,” he said in a statement.

Here's how COVID-19 numbers and protocols compare between UNC and Duke. 

Protocols at Duke

As of March 14, Duke has conducted 223,446 COVID tests since Jan. 3, according to the Duke Covid Testing Tracker. Of those, 711 were positive. From March 8 to 14, Duke reported 231 positive COVID tests and a positivity rate of 1.1 percent, according to Duke Today.

As stated in Duke’s March 13 statement, under the stay-in-place order:

  • All classes are online with very few exceptions
  • Undergraduates cannot attend laboratories
  • Students must remain in residence halls or apartments unless doing essential activities such as picking up food, COVID-19 testing or seeking medical care
  • Students living off campus are not allowed on campus unless they are picking up food, receiving a COVID-19 test or seeking medical care
  • Common areas on campus are only available to residential students for reduced hours
  • Libraries are closed to undergraduate students
  • Undergraduate students on campus have a 9 p.m. curfew

“The goal of the stay-in-place period is to stop the spread of COVID among the undergraduate population as quickly as possible,” Duke University officials said in the statement.

Duke administrators said violations of the stay-in-place order could result in suspension or withdrawal from the university.

Duke has created an Isolation Care Team to manage services for on-campus students in quarantine. Duke has quarantine housing for students who contract or are exposed to COVID-19. The university has also implemented a contract tracing program.

COVID-19 testing was mandatory for undergraduates prior to arrival. Once on campus, all students are COVID-19 tested several times a week.  On-campus students, faculty and staff must download the SymMon app and complete a symptom survey daily.

Most classrooms are limited to 25 percent capacity, according to the Duke United webpage. New regulations require social distancing and increased sanitation in classrooms, public transit, elevators and dining halls.

All students were assigned to single occupancy dorms, although some students living in apartments or suite-style dorms could be assigned doubles, according to the Housing and Residence Life webpage.

Duke students were required to agree to The Duke Compact, which outlines conditions for being on campus.

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Protocols at UNC

As of March 21, UNC reported 841 positive cases since January 2021. According to the UNC-Chapel Hill COVID-19 Dashboard, 521 were reported through UNC testing centers. The University has conducted 120,813 COVID-19 tests with a 0.4 percent positivity rate.

COVID-19 testing was mandatory for undergraduates prior to arrival and once more upon re-entry. Undergraduate students in the Chapel Hill area are required to be tested through the Carolina Together Testing Program once or twice weekly.

All students must have a HallPass account, which allows them to check their COVID-19 testing history, reserve a time to receive a test and see results from recent tests.

UNC offers in-person and remote classes this semester. The Carolina Together website states most classes with 35 or more students are remote. However, a limited number of courses with up to 50 students can be in-person.

UNC offered only single occupancy dorms this spring.

Izze Steinke, a UNC first-year, said the University has done a good job keeping students safe. Although she feels safe on campus, she said she wishes the University would do more to apprehend students who break COVID-19 guidelines.

“I wish there were more things in place to punish people who broke the rules,” she said.

The University has stated that students who break COVID-19 Community Standards are subject to developmental or disciplinary action

Despite the spike in cases at Duke and recent rush of Franklin Street, Steinke said she is not worried about contracting the virus.

“I am not worried because I do everything I need to do to keep myself safe, to keep my family safe, to keep my suite mates safe,” Steinke said.