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How Two Major Universities Reopened For In-Person Classes In The Pandemic... And Stayed Open

A residential building at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.
A residential building at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.
Photo by Kobetsai/Flickr (Creative Commons)

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In the weeks and months since colleges and universities returned to campuses for the fall semester, numerous institutions have reverted back to online classes after COVID-19 outbreaks forced them to shut their doors.

But not Duke University. The school brought back freshmen, sophomores, some upperclassmen and all of its graduate students to its campus in Durham, North Carolina, for in-person classes. And it seems to have done so safely. Since August 2, the school has implemented a thorough testing, tracking and surveillance program for more than 10,000 students. It has also invested in pooled testing, an innovative approach that stretches limited resources without sacrificing accuracy. But still, the feat is impressive— Duke students live in communal dorms, play sports, even throw parties. The university appears to have avoided the nightmare that many colleges have been forced to confront this year. And they're not alone. Other schools like Cornell University, an Ivy League campus in the small town of Ithaca, New York, have used mathematical virus modeling to develop their own plan, which included frequent testing and required students to sign a compact, agreeing to follow rules like wearing a mask while on campus and submitting to regular testing.

How has Duke University managed to keep its students, faculty and workers safe? And might we see similar safety precautions rolled out in colleges and universities in California? We’re learning more now. Questions? Give us a call at 866-893-5722.


Michael Schoenfeld, Vice President for Public Affairs & Government Relations at Duke University

Christopher Marsicano, director of the College Crisis Initiative at Davidson College; he tweets @ChrisMarsicano

Peter Frazier, associate professor of operations research and information engineering at Cornell University who helped design a program allowing students to return to the school’s campus for the Fall 2020 semester