Duke University ordered nearly all its students Saturday evening to quarantine for at least a week because of a coronavirus outbreak at the school.

More than 180 students have tested positive in the last week, and an additional 200 people were already in isolation after contact tracing, the university order said.

In a statement Sunday, Duke said the new cases were “almost all linked to unsanctioned fraternity recruitment events that took place off campus.”

“This stay-in-place order is the direct result of individual behavior in violation of Duke’s requirements for in-person activity,” the statement said, adding, “Those who are found responsible for organizing and hosting these events will be held accountable.”

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Under the order, students who live on the campus in Durham, North Carolina, must stay in their rooms except for essential errands like picking up food; they may walk outdoors in groups of three or less. Students living elsewhere were told not to go to campus and were “strongly encouraged” to limit their movements and activities off campus. All classes will be taught online.


In all, the order covers 6,000 undergraduates and 8,000 graduate and professional students who are in or near Durham, the university said.

Students across the country have had their college experiences upended as the pandemic has dragged on for more than a year, and the virus has continued to spread on campus and in surrounding communities. Since Jan. 1, more than 120,000 cases have been linked to American colleges and universities, according to a New York Times database.

When rumors circulated Saturday that the order was coming, students rushed to stock up on food and other supplies for their rooms, the campus newspaper reported.

Leah Boyd, 19, a sophomore who covered the events for the paper, said she and several friends walked around campus Saturday to “soak up our last hour or so of freedom.” She said they were worried that the lockdown would be extended to last longer than a week.

Another reporter for the paper, Nadia Bey, 19, said that while most students understood the need for restrictions, “I think the stress is really getting to us.”

Students who are careful about safety rules are starting to resent those who are not, Boyd said: “They’re tired of sacrificing their social lives, getting to see their families, getting to go to in-person classes, for other people to still be acting irresponsible.”


An online petition calling on the university to sue the Durham Interfraternity Council for “reckless endangerment” gathered more than 1,000 signatures in less than 24 hours.

After closing down last spring, Duke allowed freshmen and sophomores back into campus housing in the fall, and juniors and seniors in January. It garnered praise for its COVID testing program. But a coronavirus case sent the whole men’s basketball team into quarantine, forcing the team to withdraw from its conference tournament and dooming it to miss the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1995.

“The thing is, as much as you test, if you’re still gathering in large groups, if you’re still being unsafe, if you’re still not following the rest of the protocol, the amount of testing you do doesn’t matter,” Boyd said. “You’re still going to end up in situations like this.”