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Duke Reopening FAQ

Information about Housing, Academics, Health and other issues for the fall semester

Residential Life:

  • What are the different categories of housing for Fall semester 2020 that are addressed in this Q&A?

"Duke-provided housing” and “Duke housing” refer to residential facilities for undergraduate students that are managed by Duke. These facilities are on East and West Campus as well as in neighborhoods that are close to the Duke campus. “Off campus” refers to housing in the vicinity of campus that students have rented independently.


  • Which students are going to be permitted to live in Duke-provided housing? Why?

While we had hoped to be able to accommodate all students who wanted to live in Duke-provided housing, we must decrease the density on campus to provide a safer environment for all members of our community.  We can now only provide housing to entering first-year students, sophomores, and a limited number of students who have specific needs and are approved by a team from Student Affairs, Student Disability and Accommodations, and Undergraduate Education. Juniors and seniors who were planning to live in Duke housing in the Fall 2020 semester are encouraged to remain at home and participate in their courses online.  Should conditions remain stable or improve, juniors and seniors will have first priority for Duke-provided housing in the Spring 2021 semester, followed by first-years and sophomores if possible.


  • Why are you making this change?

With the continued spread of COVID-19 nationally, and the significant increase in prevalence in both North Carolina and Durham, it is essential to reduce the on-campus student population by 30 percent in order to create a safer environment and ensure that we have the capacity to provide the necessary level of testing, quarantine, and health services to our students and employees. 


  • What percentage of students would live in Duke housing in a normal year?

Typically, we accommodate more than 85 percent of our undergraduate students in Duke housing and we have added more than 400 additional bedrooms this year through leases with local apartment complexes and hotels. But the need to further reduce the density of our residence halls and campus in general means that we need to make difficult decisions to protect the health and safety of the entire Duke community in a constantly changing environment.


  • How will this affect undergraduate students who are already planning to live off campus?

Undergraduate students who are already planning to live locally off campus will be permitted to take classes in person and access student health and support services, and use a limited number of campus facilities for approved academic purposes (laboratories, performance-based activity, etc.). Students living off campus will not have access to residential, dining, recreation, or social areas. Specific policies about library access will follow.


  • How will these further restrictions affect graduate and professional students?

Most graduate and professional programs will be online-only or hybrid with minimal in-person classes.  Schools will continue to provide specific information to their students. Graduate and professional students will primarily have access to their designated academic spaces, including laboratories. Graduate and professional students will be able to access other important support services such as Student Health.


  • How did Duke decide who gets to return to campus?

In the past several weeks, COVID-19 has continued to spread, with increasing rates both regionally and locally. It has become clear that we need to reduce the on-campus population to maintain a safer campus environment. When it became clear that we needed to reduce the on-campus population for health and safety reasons, we looked at several factors, including academic and curricular alignment. Since first-year students are starting their college careers and have many similar needs for support, advising, and academic engagement, we decided it was important to begin their time at Duke in the most cohesive way possible. And since sophomores share many of these same characteristics, they were also included in this first cohort. In addition, there are students who, for a variety of circumstances, need to be on the Duke campus in order to successfully make progress towards their degree.

We understand that this decision will frustrate many students who are not able to live in Duke housing, and who have not made plans to live off campus. Given the progression of the virus, and the many uncertainties in the months ahead, we strongly encourage those students to take full advantage of the Duke curriculum from their family homes or another safe location.  Being able to manage our limited on-campus population this fall makes it more likely that we will be able to welcome greater numbers of students back to Duke in the spring.


  • Why is Duke not offering online-only classes for the Fall semester?

The Duke education is a unique, intensely personal, and highly engaged experience. We think it is of such value and benefit to students that we will take as many steps as necessary to provide it to as many students as we can safely accommodate given the uncertainties that currently exist.  Accordingly, if conditions permit, we would like every student to have at least one semester on campus this year.


  • How will Duke determine whether campus activity needs to close down entirely in response to health conditions?

We will continuously monitor a range of indicators, including local and national conditions, infection and severity rates, hospital capacity, state and local regulations, and community status to determine whether any changes need to be made to campus activity. Should conditions deteriorate we would first move to a “shelter in place” status, in which all in-person classes would shift online, activities would be canceled, and facility access restricted. Closing the campus and sending students home would be a last resort because of the potential negative impact on families and community health.


  • How will this change affect my financial aid package?

Please contact your financial aid counselor at the Karsh Office for Undergraduate Financial Support for additional information.


  • Can international students return to campus for the Fall 2020 semester?

International students who can secure visas and travel arrangements, have confirmed housing, and who comply with all requirements for quarantine and testing can return to campus.

International students should refer to the international student section of the Keep Learning website for more specific guidance.


  • Will Duke share the number of positive cases and where ill students are living?

The university will provide information consistent with our commitment to protecting public health and student/patient privacy.


  • What will happen in the Spring 2021 semester?

The fast moving and unpredictable nature of the virus means that we must make final determinations later in the fall. We will be closely monitoring campus, local, and national indicators to make this decision.

Juniors and seniors will have first priority for campus housing for the Spring 2021 semester followed by first-year students and sophomores, as conditions permit.


  • How different will student life be this fall?

Every part of student life will be unusual and much of it will look very different than prior years, regardless of whether you live on- or off campus.

Access to buildings and facilities will be restricted. The usual in-person events, meetings, and programs will either not take place or will be significantly different in size and format. Dining on campus will, unfortunately, be much less of the communal experience than usual. Student compliance with health and safety expectations will be expected at all times, on and off campus, to protect the health and safety of all members of the Duke community, particularly our most vulnerable students, staff, and faculty.

COVID-19 demands the entire Duke community be united to look out for each other, and to take responsibility for our actions and the impact they will have on our friends, colleagues, teachers, and mentors, and particularly on the most vulnerable among us


  • Is it too late to take a gap year or personal leave?

 The Personal Leave of Absence (PLOA) deadline is August 14th at 5pm. Grace will be extended, allowing students to take a PL up until August 28th, but will incur financial charges. For specific information on financial charges, see the bursar’s website:


  • What are the criteria for students who are not first-year or sophomores to live in Duke-provided housing, and what is the process for applying?

Duke recognizes that many juniors and seniors will face barriers to continuing their studies while away from campus. We have limited housing spaces for juniors and seniors whose academic progress and personal wellbeing significantly depend on being in Duke-provided housing. Junior and senior students who wish to be considered for Duke-provided housing should go to; more information and application will be available early this week. Applications will be carefully and confidentially reviewed as soon as possible by a team from Student Affairs, Student Disability and Accommodations, and Undergraduate Education. Decisions will be provided by Monday, August 3. If we are not able to approve students for Duke housing, we hope to identify and connect students to ongoing remote support and resources that will help to navigate this time of uncertainty. 


  • Does the university have the supplies to facilitate this number of people on campus?

The university has sufficient face coverings, thermometers, cleaning supplies, and other essentials to provide all necessary equipment to students, faculty, and staff.


Residential and Campus Life, Dining

  • Where will students approved for Duke housing live?

Students approved for Duke housing will live in residence halls on West Campus and East Campus, as well as designated spaces in the Washington Duke Inn, the Blue Light Apartments on Erwin Road, and the Avana Apartments on Cornwallis Road. Duke Transit routes will be adjusted to include students living off-campus in the Blue Light Apartments.  


  • When will students hear about their housing assignments?

First-year assignments were distributed July 17. Sophomore assignments will be communicated by Thursday, July 30. Some first-year students will be re-assigned to create more space for upperclassmen on West Campus.  These will be sent by July 30 as well.  Juniors and seniors approved to live in Duke housing will receive their assignments within two working days of approval date.


  • Where will students eat?

Some campus dining facilities will be open, though menus, services, and facilities will not resemble “normal” operations.  Many restaurants will offer grab-and-go or take-out options, but indoor seating areas will be significantly limited. Some outdoor dining areas will be available.  

In addition, Duke Dining is making plans to bring a rotating assortment of food trucks to various locations to supplement the existing selection of vendors. See more on fall adjustments from Duke Dining.   


  • What scope of student activities should be anticipated?

The Division of Student Affairs is working with students and student groups to plan on-campus activities within health and safety constraints. 

Students and departments are also developing a creative array of virtual activities, speakers, programs, and performances to engage the entire Duke community, including those who are not able to be on campus for the semester.


  • Will there be travel restrictions for students?

Undergraduate students will be required to remain in Durham during the residential part of the semester (August-November).  Undergraduate students who leave the area may not be permitted to return to Duke housing without approval from Student Affairs. More information will be available soon.


  • Who will clean the rooms and bathrooms?

As usual, students in Duke-provided housing will be required to clean their own rooms and en suite bathrooms to limit exposure between students and housekeeping and other residential staff.

Further information regarding procedures for housekeeping in common areas will be provided in each residence.


  • Will students have access to community facilities on campus, such as the fitness centers, Bryan Center, and Brodhead Center?

The Bryan Center, Brodhead Center, and libraries will have limited occupancy and other changes.

Many student supports will be delivered largely (if not entirely) virtually this semester, including career services, community-centered spaces/support, campus life offices, etc. These virtual resources will be available for students regardless of their location.

Fitness centers will be open as permitted by state and local regulations and will be introducing new procedures and safety features.  Additional details will be available when students arrive for the semester.


  • Will all students have singles?  If not, how will doubles be assigned?

First-year students are primarily in single bedrooms and most will have a shared bathroom.  Some sophomores who indicated plans to live with a specific individual will be placed in double rooms.


  • Which buildings will graduate students be able to access?

Graduate and professional students will have access to their designated academic buildings and lab spaces, as well as essential health and support resources.


  • Where will graduate and professional students be able to eat on campus?

Many graduate and professional schools are working with Duke Dining to identify service options, which may include grab-and-go stands, delivery, and food trucks.


  • What happens to my belongings in storage?

Students’ property in storage will be delivered to their new campus residences (if living in Duke housing or immediately surrounding Durham area) or shipped to their home address (if not living in the Durham area). Students can have their items remain in storage but will have to pay for this expense after September.


  • Are buses running?

To limit potential exposure to bus drivers and passengers, busses will be running with limited capacity between East and West Campus, and between Duke off-campus housing and West Campus. Bus schedules will also be limited.  More information will be available by August 6, 2020.


  • Will intramural sports/clubs continue to meet in person?

Intramural and club sports may only operate under specific health guidance and as permitted by local regulations. As of now, intramural and club sports will not be occurring in the fall semester, with the exception of e-sports events.



  • What are the policies regarding social events?

Please note that in-person public events (meaning any event to which individuals who are not Duke students, faculty, or staff would be invited or expected to attend) will not be permitted on the Duke campus until further notice. Additionally, in-person events hosted, sponsored, or paid for by Duke will not be permitted to take place off campus, either in Durham or elsewhere.

For non-public events (meaning events strictly for students) all student organizations are required to register any event, including those hosted on campus or off campus at a third-party location.  Any approved event must be aligned and consistent with local orders and ordinances of the City of Durham and Durham County, as well as the State of North Carolina. We are currently limiting any in-person, student-hosted gathering on campus to 10 participants or fewer. 

Students in local off-campus housing should closely follow Durham and state regulations, which as of July 27th restrict outdoor events to no more than 25 people and no more than 10 people inside.  All undergraduate and graduate/professional students must adhere to the 10 persons or fewer guidance in alignment with on-campus policies. Students living on-campus must adhere to residential policies.  Violations will be referred to the Office of Student Conduct, which could result in disciplinary action including, but not limited to, suspension or permanent dismissal from your degree program. 

Regardless of virtual or in-person enrollment status, student violations of Durham County and North Carolina COVID-19 regulations (both on- and off-campus) constitute violations of the Duke Community Standard and our COVID-19 Health and Safety policies. Flagrant disregard for community safety will lead to charges through the Office of Student Conduct and may result in disciplinary sanctions including suspension or permanent dismissal from your degree program.


  • What are the consequences for students who flagrantly violate health guidelines or expectations for social distancing?   

All students will continue to be governed by their school-specific bulletins and will have to sign the Duke Compact.  Violations of either are subject to disciplinary sanctions up to and including expulsion. We hope that the ability to build and sustain a united Duke community and protect the health and safety of our neighbors, friends and colleagues will be strongest incentive to observe these common-sense guidelines.  

Further details about community expectations will be available August 3.


Testing and Tracing

  • Do students need to get a test or quarantine before they arrive on campus?

Students who are returning to Durham from other locations will be asked to obtain COVID-19 tests if possible in their areas, prior to arrival. All students should self-quarantine for 14 days before coming to Durham. Students who receive positive test results, or are symptomatic, before their return to Durham will be required to stay in their current locations and not come to campus until they are cleared by their physicians or Student Health.

Further details on this process are forthcoming.


  • Will all undergraduates be tested on arrival?

All students coming to campus will be tested upon arrival, with test results expected within 24 hours. All students living in Duke housing will be required to be tested before they are permitted to move into student housing, or to have their Duke Card activated. All undergraduate students living off campus will be tested, as they arrive in scheduled windows between August 11 and 15. After testing, students will be required to sequester in their residence hall or off-campus home until results are received. During this sequester period, students living on campus will be permitted to retrieve food from Duke Dining locations, run essential errands, and spend time outdoors in a manner that does not increase the potential spread of COVID-19. While waiting for test results, students are expected to limit any unnecessary movement and activity outside of their room. Students will be going through anterior nares (nasal swab), PCR testing. This testing will occur between August 6 and August 15.


  • Will returning undergraduate students have to sequester upon arrival?

Students who are not symptomatic will be required to sequester in their room or residence until the results of their arrival tests are available. This means strictly limiting activities necessary to move in and essential functions, including picking up to-go food at designated locations. Students with known recent COVID-19 exposure or who meet criteria at Penn Pavilion will be quarantined.


  • Where will they sequester?

Students in Duke housing will sequester in their rooms. 


  • What about undergraduate students living off campus?

Undergraduates living off campus will be required to sequester in their off-campus residence until their test results are available. These students should make appropriate arrangements for food and necessary supplies.


  • Will all graduate and professional students be tested?

Graduate and professional students will be required to be tested. Testing for this group will occur between August 16 and September 1.


  • How frequently will undergraduate and graduate and professional students be tested after arrival?

Students who will reside in Duke housing, graduate and professional students who will be attending classes or working on campus, and a number of staff and faculty who frequently interact with students will be subject to regular surveillance testing during the semester.


  • Who is doing the testing for Duke?

The university has worked closely with experts from the Duke School of Medicine and Duke Hospital to develop a comprehensive testing plan. Tests will be conducted by clinicians from Student Health, Duke Hospital, Duke School of Nursing, Duke School of Medicine, and other partners.


  • How does contact tracing work?

Students who test positive will hear from a trained contact tracer as part of their follow-up care and are required to participate in the contact tracing process. Contact tracers will help determine whether individuals who have come in contact with the infected person need to be referred for quarantine and testing. Students will also receive daily check-in calls. 


  • If I test positive, will that be reported to Durham Public Health?

By law, Duke must report all positive tests to Durham Public Health regardless of whether a student lives in Duke housing or not.


  • Does Duke contact tracing supersede Durham County Public Health contact tracing?

By law, Durham County Public Health is responsible for contact tracing, and the university is working very closely with Durham County Public Health.  All students will be required to provide information to public health agencies as needed.


  • Will students and faculty be notified if someone in their class, residence hall, etc., tests positive?

Medical experts at Duke will review each situation and determine whether contacts need to be referred for testing or other actions. Members of the Duke community will be expected to comply with any quarantine guidance they are given.


  • Will employees be notified if someone in their office or workgroup tests positive?

Medical experts at Duke will review each situation and determine whether contacts need to be referred for testing or other actions. Members of the Duke community will be expected to comply with any quarantine guidance they are given.


  • Will Duke be reporting number of tests given, percentage of positives, or number of positives?

The university will report information consistent with our commitment to protect public health and safety and patient confidentiality.


  • Do all students have to complete the symptom tracking app every day?

All students who reside in the Durham area will need to complete the symptom-monitoring survey every day. You can download the free SymMon app  from the Apple App Store and Google Play.


  • Will faculty and staff have to complete the symptom monitoring app every day?

Faculty and staff who visit campus regularly will have to complete the app every day.


  • How quickly can I get a test and results if I am symptomatic, or if I have been notified that I have been in contact with someone who tested positive?

Test results will typically be available within 24 hours, but this is dependent on local testing volumes in the Triangle and surrounding areas.


  • Will my test results be reported to my parents?

Duke observes all requirements for privacy under HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act).



  • Are residential students guaranteed or required to take an in-person class?

The number of in-person classes will be very limited so there is neither a guarantee nor a requirement that students living in Duke-provided housing will have access to them.

Incoming international students should check with their advisor to ensure that their course schedule is in compliance with visa regulations.


  • Can students who are not living in Duke housing enroll in an in-person class?

Yes, but spaces will be very limited.


  • Is it possible for faculty members to change in-person courses to hybrid or online delivery?

Yes, course designations may change as a result of a number of factors, including availability of the faculty member, campus and local conditions, and the composition of the students enrolled in the class.


  • Can a student who is not a first- or second-year still do an independent study in the fall?

Yes. Students who want to do an independent study will need to follow the guidelines established by each department. Students should contact their faculty instructors for further details.


  • Will there be a change in the grading system?

The normal letter grading system will be in place for the fall semester.


  • Will I be able to change courses after the beginning of the semester?

Yes, the normal add/drop process and deadlines will be in place. Students should contact their advisors with any questions.


  • What will the in-person class experience be?

The in-person class experience will be different for sure.  All students and faculty will have to use face coverings, physical distancing will be enforced, classrooms will only be used at one-third of their normal capacity, and students may be participating online as well as in person.


  • Will students have access to academic support resources?

Many academic support resources will be delivered virtually this semester, including the Academic Resource Center, Duke Testing Center, Academic Guides, Academic Advising Center, Karsh Office of Undergraduate Financial Support, Career Center, Duke LIFE, and the Global Education Office. These virtual resources will be available to students regardless of their location.


  • Can students in quarantine or isolation continue their course work?

Yes, students in quarantine or isolation will be able to continue their studies remotely.


Health and Wellness

  • Where do students, staff and faculty go if they are ill?

All students should call Duke Student Health. Faculty and staff should call their health care provider or Duke Employee Health.


  • Where will students be housed during periods of quarantine or isolation?

The university has secured more than 250 beds in two dedicated residence halls on East Campus and the Lodge at Duke Health hotel. Students who reside in Duke housing and require quarantine or isolation accommodations will be transported to one of those locations. Students who do not reside in Duke housing will be expected to quarantine or isolate in their private residence.


  • Who will monitor students during quarantine?

Students will be monitored by health care professionals from Student Health, Duke School of Nursing, Duke School of Medicine, or Duke Hospital.


  • Who determines when a student in quarantine is ready to return to their Duke housing?  To class?

Student Health providers must clear students before they can return to their Duke housing, in-person classes and other Duke facilities.


  • In what ways is Duke Student Health partnering with Duke University Health System to meet increased demands?

Over the past several months, Student Health has increased capacity to accommodate the expected surge of traffic when students return. In addition, Student Health is closely aligned with Duke Health, one of the leading hospitals and health care systems in the country, which will be supporting all levels of care for Duke students.


  • Will there be off-campus options for Student Health?

Yes. Students living off campus in Durham will have access to Duke Urgent Care and Duke Primary Care locations.


  • Will students living off campus in Durham have access to Student Health?




  • What is the status of intercollegiate athletics? 

The ACC is expected to determine the status of fall competition soon.


  • What is the status of rec/club/intramural sports?

Rec, intramural and club sports may only operate under specific health guidance and as permitted by local regulations. As of now, rec, intramural and club sports will not be occurring in the fall semester, with the exception of e-sports events.