Duke University's COVID-19 surveillance testing kept cases at bay, CDC finds

Out of 10,265 students at Duke University in Durham, N.C., just 84 tested positive for COVID-19 between Aug. 2 and Oct. 11, the result of a comprehensive surveillance testing program, according to the CDC's Nov. 17 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Throughout this period, 10,265 students underwent a total of 68,913 tests. Students at Duke were required to self-quarantine for 14 days before arriving on campus in the fall, where entry testing was conducted. They signed a university contract agreeing to mandatory mask-wearing, social distancing and routine COVID-19 surveillance testing. Contact tracing was performed for all positive cases, and exposed people were quarantined for two weeks. Students also used a symptom-monitoring smartphone app where they took a daily survey when entering campus. 

Frequent pool testing, or testing that groups several samples together, was used to monitor for asymptomatic infections. Once the pooled sample is analyzed, if one positive is identified, then each individual sample will be tested individually — a strategy that enables efficient large-scale testing, according to the CDC

"These findings highlight the importance of combined testing and contact tracing strategies beyond symptomatic testing, in association with other preventive measures," the report concludes. "Pooled testing balances resource availability with supply-chain disruptions, high throughput with high sensitivity, and rapid turnaround with an acceptable workload."

The surveillance program at Duke University is ongoing. 

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