Duke COVID-19 surveillance program minimizes spread of virus on campus, CDC report says

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Thursday, November 19, 2020
Duke surveillance program minimizes COVID-19 on campus: CDC report
The study, which was conducted primarily by Duke University researchers, found that the university's testing and surveillance program has been successful at slowing the spread of COVID-19 on campus

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- A report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and written by Duke University researchers found the university's testing and surveillance program has been successful at slowing the spread of COVID-19 on campus.

Before arriving on campus, all Duke students were required to quarantine for 14 days, pledge to wear a mask and follow social distancing guidelines, and take a COVID-19 test. Throughout the semester, students, faculty and staff have undergone repeated random surveillance testing--as well as contact tracing for those who have tested positive and strict quarantine measures.

The study authors found that the number of cases in the Duke population was lower than the cases per capita in the surrounding area. Additionally, the surveillance program was able to identify multiple asymptomatic cases among the 139 students who have tested positive as of Nov. 13. Less than 0.2% of all students tested have tested positive.

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Authors said the success was due to a combination of strategies, including a smartphone app for self-monitoring, test kits students could use in their dorms twice-weekly, and strategically located test sites, and a technique called "pooled testing." That means tests are batched together in groups of five and analyzed for the presence of the virus. If the batch tests positive, then those samples are individually tested to identify which tests are positive. The strategy allows laboratory technicians to test more samples quicker.

The report, while signifying Duke's success in containing the virus compared to other North Carolina universities, does leave some questions, including how strictly students adhered to social distancing guidelines and mask-wearing, whether students who tested positive lived on or off-campus, and whether these results will be sustained through the rest of the year.