The following memo was sent to Duke University leaders and managers on Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2022.

TO:       Vice Presidents, Vice Provosts, Deans, Directors, Department Heads, and Managers

FROM:  Carol Epling, MD, MSPH, Executive Director, Employee Occupational Health & Wellness

Matthew Stiegel, Ph.D., Director, Occupational and Environmental Safety Office

RE:       Guidance on Holiday Parties, Gatherings and Travel

As we approach the holiday season, we are closely monitoring new COVID variants that are beginning to gain ground across the U.S., as well as increasing reports of influenza and other respiratory viruses such as RSV. This is a particularly concerning trend as many people plan to travel to other parts of the country and gather with friends and family during the holidays.

We are all ready to return to more normal activities, but we must remember the pandemic is still with us and poses a dangerous threat to many, especially those who are immunocompromised. The most important action we can all take is to get vaccinated for the flu and receive the updated bivalent COVID booster, which not only protects us from severe illness but also our friends, family, and colleagues. We strongly encourage everyone to get a free COVID booster and flu vaccine at one of our on-site clinics or at any other healthcare provider before traveling for the holidays.

While the University allows workplace holiday gatherings, we encourage people to follow safe practices to help reduce the potential spread of respiratory viruses currently circulating. These include practicing good hand hygiene and wearing a well-fitting mask when in close quarters with others unless actively eating or drinking. Outdoor events present a much lower risk for COVID transmission.   While the weather may not be as accommodating in colder months, heated outdoor spaces can be found. Most importantly, if you are sick or have any respiratory symptoms, do not attend gatherings with others.

During the last two years, we have seen staff shortages due to an increase in COVID cases directly related to travel during the holidays. For those traveling using mass transit (airplanes, buses, trains, etc.) during the holidays, we suggest wearing a well-fitting mask to reduce your risk of infection and the risk to others. We also suggest you consider recent exposure before gathering with others, especially those who may be at higher risk for severe illness or complications, and getting a test beforehand.

As we enter the holiday season, we are already in the midst of a surge of flu and RSV. We can take steps to reduce our individual and community risk by continuing to follow these guidelines. Thank you for your ongoing leadership, support, and efforts to keep everyone safe during this critical time.