Some Schools Control Virus


Last updated 9/9/2020 at 4:45pm

In the past week, East Carolina University reported it had surpassed 1,000 COVID-19 cases. UNC-Chapel Hill sent students home shortly after it had opened for in-person classes last month due to COVID-19 clusters. While these universities and others have experienced large outbreaks of the coronavirus, other universities and colleges have remained open and kept the coronavirus fairly well in check.

Duke University, which is less than 10 miles from UNC-Chapel Hill, has remained open. One difference is Duke has implemented comprehensive testing and tracing. Prior to coming to campus, Duke requested all students self-quarantine for 14 days and be tested. All undergraduate students were then tested before moving into their dormitory rooms. Duke has been able to test so many rapidly because it employs “pool testing.”

With “pool testing,” a person’s nasal sample is combined with four other people’s nasal samples and then tested. If the test is negative, all five people are considered negative. If the test is positive, then the five people are retested individually to find out which person is positive. According to the Raleigh News & Observer, this method, which is highly automated, allows 120 samples to be processed in less than 15 minutes.

Duke has taken other measures to inhibit the spread of the coronavirus. Only first-year students, sophomores and a small number of juniors and seniors with special circumstances can live on campus, so housing on campus is roughly 50 percent of capacity. Many students do not have roommates. If students do test positive or need to be quarantined, Duke has more than 250 beds to isolate those students.

Students also have played an important role. There have been very few large parties as there have been at public universities, and students seem to be following the safety protocols.

As a result of these measures and some others, such as making every class available online, the university has kept the coronavirus under control. The week of Aug. 29 through Sept. 4, it had tested 6,840 students, faculty and staff with just six positive results. As of last Thursday, Duke had a positivity rate of 0.3 percent since it started testing in early August.

Duke does benefit from being a smaller university. It has 17,000 students compared to UNC-Chapel Hill’s 29,000 students and N.C. State’s 36,000 students. But Duke is by no means a small university and its students, faculty and staff reside in one of the state’s larger cities.

Closer to home, Brevard College has implemented many of the steps Duke has. The college offers free testing in conjunction with Brevard Music Center. The college has assigned students to live in cohorts with students with the same major or on the same sports teams to reduce mingling with the larger student body. The college also has set aside a significant number of beds for students who need to be isolated.

There is no certainty that following all of these aforementioned steps will stop an outbreak, but they certainly lower the probability of such outbreaks occurring.

If colleges and universities are going to reopen later this year, they would do well to follow the measures taken by those that have been able to keep COVID-19 under control on their campuses these past several weeks.


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