Duke University makes ‘backup’ plans to begin spring classes remotely if COVID-19 cases spike

COVID-19 and schools

DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) — Officials with Duke University plan to bring students back in the spring and to continue to hold some in-person classes, just like they did in the fall.

The spring plan includes a robust testing program that will test students as they return to campus, as well as throughout the semester.

However, if COVID-19 cases are higher than expected when it gets closer to January, Duke officials have three other contingency plans they are considering which include delaying the beginning of the spring semester or moving classes online.

Below are the four different plans they are considering:
Plan A: Plan stays the same, classes begin January 20th
Plan B: 3 -day sequester, classes begin January 24th
Plan C: 10-14 day sequester
Plan D: Classes begin remotely

“It’s really going to depend on campus conditions, local conditions, state conditions, and national conditions,” said Michael Schoenfeld, chief communications officer for Duke University.

Schoenfeld said the University will be paying close attention to any possible travel restrictions, as he said that will play a factor in if they can bring everyone back.

Duke University has been able to keep their number of COVID-19 cases since August to 217 positive cases among students and employees and the positivity rate has been kept to 0.13 percent.

CBS 17 asked Schoenfeld if other universities should make plans to scale back their plans for the spring just in case if the number of COVID-19 cases rise at an alarming rate.

“I imagine that many other universities are considering it, if they’re not they certainly should be,” Schoenfeld said. “Again we’re in a very uncertain and unsettled period in regards to the virus.”

Duke senior Jake Malone said as he prepares to head home for winter break, he does not know for sure if he will get to come back and finish his senior year on campus in the spring.

“They sent out an email that says ‘hey when you go home bring your important items,'” Malone said. “So I’m going to be packing as if I’m not coming back.”

Malone said he commends Duke for their robust testing program and how they are looking at different backup plans that will help keep students safe.

“I would say in this case, I’m really glad that they’re thinking ahead with regards to what to do,” Malone said. “I’m glad they have multiple options because it gives me something to hope for. I am hoping I’ll get to spend my final semester here on campus.”

Schoenfeld said they should have an idea by mid or late December which of these plans to go with.

As for other universities, North Carolina State University has already delayed their start date for the spring by one week and they will start on Jan. 19.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is planning to start classes on Jan. 19 as well.

A UNC spokesperson said in an email they will remain flexible and keep all options on the table. If any changes are made to their plan, they will announce those no later than Jan. 9.

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