Students in Duke University’s famous tent village, where they camp out awaiting admission to men’s basketball games, received a grace period to leave Wednesday evening for an indefinite time because of the severity of this year’s flu season and student illnesses.
Krzyzewskiville was empty after consultations between officials in Duke’s student affairs office, athletics department and students.
Vice President for Student Affairs Larry Moneta told parents the university acted because it has “had several new cases of influenza among our student population” and has “identified some students from K-ville with the flu.”
As a result, “we’ve elected to take a cautious approach” with the tent village, he said in a posting to the Duke parents’ Facebook group.
“The continued high-level activity of this flu season is consistent with the severe seasons of 2009 and 2014,” Moneta said. “While the virus is not more inherently infectious than average, it’s making its way to a lot more people.”
Moneta elaborated on Thursday, telling reporters that 125 students have gone to Duke’s Student Wellness Center for treatment since Jan. 10. That number “caught our attention” because it likely understates the problem, he said, because Duke doesn’t have a way to track students who seek treatment from urgent-care centers or off-campus physicians.
The ill also included, just in the last week, “probably six or seven” of the Krzyzewskiville campers, he said.
The discussions leading to the closure began Wednesday with a morning telephone conversation between Moneta and Director of Health Services John Vaughn, who’d checked beforehand with infectious-disease experts in Duke’s medical school and health care system. From there, Moneta talked with Director of Athletics Kevin White and the two students who serve as K-ville line monitors.
All “agreed it was much more appropriate to be cautious under the circumstances,” Moneta said, calling the move “the right step” even though the flu isn’t necessarily any worse at Krzyzewskiville, or on campus, than it is elsewhere in the community.
“Obviously it’s a game of odds, and all we’re doing is to try to take the riskiest of circumstances off the table,” he said, acknowledging that a college campus inherently puts people in close contact. “Whatever is going to happen in North Carolina and the Triangle with the flu is going to happen. And this is not in and of itself going to influence the degree to which students may or may not get ill regardless.”
He added that Duke began offering another round of flu shots in the Student Wellness Center on Thursday, and will continue that over the next three days. The wellness center has an open-access policy that allows any student with symptoms of illness to report and immediately receive treatment.
“If there’s a silver living, we’re going to get a huge lineup of students to get a second wave of flu shots,” Moneta said. “That’s a good thing, and if we’ve been able to get their attention with this move [about Krzyzewskiville] and get their flu shots, that’s a great thing. That in the long run could be far more helpful in minimizing the spread.”
Duke students set up tents outside Cameron Indoor Stadium ahead of major men’s basketball games to stake out a place in line to get admission to them. Tenters stay there in groups to hold their place in line.
The tent city often attracts more than 1,000 campers and is strictly regulated by students.
Depending on the week, a certain number of tenters from each group normally have to be present inside the tent during the day and at night.
But Duke Student Government, which regulates K-ville, gave all tenters who had staked out a spot an “indefinite grace period” starting at 10 p.m. Wednesday, according to The Chronicle, Duke’s student newspaper. That meant the tents won’t be checked.
Moneta said officials will continue to track the situation and allow camping to resume when the flu situation eases.
He added that while they don’t “have an absolute metric” for when that might be, they’ll stay in touch with the university’s in-house infectious disease specialists.
Before Wednesday night, there were 70 groups camping in Krzyzewskiville, according to The Chronicle’s report.
The winter storm in mid-January that brought almost a foot of snow in some parts of Durham County also shut down Krzyzewskiville. “There’s nothing unusual about periods of time when the students aren’t in tents,” Moneta said, pointing out that the campout’s rules contemplate other situations where it’s better for students to stay indoors.
The tenting period concludes prior to Duke’s regular-season ending home game against North Carolina on March 3.
One camper, freshman Alex Johnson, said she’s had a cold recently and didn’t there were an unusual number of students at K-ville who were sick. But she welcomed the decision to shut down the camp for the timing being, if for no other reasons than it’s “kind of cold outside.”
Like Moneta, she noted that students will remain in close quarters even if they’re not in tents. “I don’t think it’l stop people from going to games,” Johnson said. “Then you’ll have all the same people who are sick squished together in Cameron.”
The Centers for Disease Control reported that flu cases across the country have spiked early this season.
State public health monitors reported on Thursday that this year’s flu epidemic has caused 95 deaths so far in North Carolina, more than half of them among people aged 65 or more.