A Message to the Duke Community

Hello from Durham, North Carolina to all of our Duke students, faculty, staff, parents, alumni and friends.

I hope this message finds you well, but I suspect that—wherever you are—you are dealing with the complications to life caused by the spread of COVID-19.

Here at Duke, we are working diligently, and around the clock, to navigate this public health emergency while continuing our work—the critical work of teaching, learning, discovery, and caring for the health of our community.  

But it’s anything other than business as usual.  

We’ve all had to make very significant adjustments to practice the social distancing required to slow the spread of COVID-19, which we hope—notwithstanding all of the significant disruptions this entails—will go a long way toward protecting public health and minimizing the longer-term damage—physical, social, economic—caused by this novel pathogen.

Let me thank all of you for your understanding and for your willingness to do the right thing during these complicated and confounding times.  

I know how hard this is. It’s difficult to see our lovely campus fall unnaturally quiet, when it should be such a lively, vibrant, place of physical energy and closeness.

It’s painful to imagine how many people are feeling stranded, during so much uncertainty, separated from their families and colleagues and unsure of what’s next.

It’s hard to see so many students, and staff and faculty—who just want to get back to their important work – struggle through an upending of every regular rhythm of their daily life.

And it’s heartbreaking to know of how much this is hurting our on-campus vendors, our staff, local businesses, visitors, and so many who rely upon Duke for so many things—including, for many, their livelihood.

But here’s the thing:  We are Duke; we are a strong community; we care about each other; we’re clever and hardworking and innovative; and we’ll get through this and come out stronger on the other side.

Because we’re committed to common values: of respect, trust, inclusion, discovery, and excellence.

So, we’re asking for your help.

Please look after your own health.  Please do the smart things.  Wash your hands regularly and practice social distancing.  For an impulsive hand-shaker like me, I’ve got to say this feels very odd.  But we do have to keep our distance—an arm and a half’s length.

By the way, even if you can’t shake hands, you can always wave.  You can smile.  Let people know you’re there to be helpful.

More important, let’s all look after other people’s health.  The main reason we are practicing social distancing is not actually for ourselves.  Younger people, people our students’ age, may not get sick; or if they do, they may not suffer all that much.  But don’t just think of yourself, think of your grandmother.  You’re slowing down COVID-19 to protect her.

And please bear with us as we work institutionally to do the right thing by the tens of thousands of people who are a part of Duke every day.  This is not easy for anyone.  We need your help.   As circumstances change—and they do, even by the hour—we’re doing our utmost to keep you informed, to adapt our policies and procedures as required, and to give you the best possible advice and direction we can.  Keep calm, be patient.  Again, it isn’t easy, but it is necessary.

You should know that we will be constantly changing our protocols, policies and actions to adapt to quickly-changing circumstances, both in Durham and North Carolina but also nationally. 

I want to assure you that our actions are focused on three critical priorities

  • First, our most pressing concern is protecting the health and welfare of the campus community, including students, staff, faculty, visitors, and their families. 
  • Secondly, we must take immediate action to mitigate the risk to our health care providers, who are more than ever needed for their vital support to Durham and the surrounding region. 
  • Finally, we are redoubling efforts to allow for continuity of the teaching, learning, and academic missions of the university—and in particular our research into a vaccine or cure for the coronavirus.

You can learn more by going to coronavirus.duke.edu.  It is your one-stop location for information and updates.

We recognize that our protocols and actions will cause significant disruption to the lives of everyone associated with the university. But now is the time for decisive action in the face of the mounting risks.

We can all take great pride in the tireless work, mutual concern, and great compassion of every member of the Duke community over these past few days. 

Throughout Duke’s first century, we’ve often been called upon to provide real leadership in the world, and today, we hear that call again. I know that we will answer it by demonstrating the abiding values and commitment to service that will carry us through to the even more extraordinary century to come.

Thank you for your support. I am proud to be a member of this community.