Colleges across the U.S. are facing rising infections and a new COVID-19 variation. They have been stopped from seeking normalcy.
Schools that had hoped to ease safety precautions this spring were hit hard by the threat from the omicron variant. Many are now telling students to be ready for the next term of testing, masking and, if necessary, social life restrictions.
Syracuse University officials were feeling “pretty good” after a fall that saw few cases of coronavirus, according to Kent Syverud (the upstate New York school’s chancellor).
Syverud stated, “But omicron changed that.” “It has forced us to go back and say that until we know more about the variant for certain, we will have to reinstate some precautions.”
Syracuse announced last week that all students and employees who are eligible must receive COVID-19 booster shots prior to the spring term. Officials are also considering whether to extend the mandate for masks and students will be subject to a round virus testing when they return.
Many things are still unknown about the threat posed by the omicron variant. The majority of COVID-19 cases in the United States, and other countries, are currently caused by the delta variant.
Many colleges see boosters as the best chance of survival as they prepare for the worst. In recent weeks, more than 20 colleges have required booster shots. Others say they are considering it. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention encourage boosters for people aged 17 and over. Last week, Pfizer announced that it might be possible to offer significant protection against omicron with a booster of its COVID-19 vaccination even though the first two doses seem less effective.
Many colleges require COVID-19 vaccinations. Some say that boosters are the next best thing.
The majority of booster mandates have been from small colleges of liberal arts in the Northeast. However, the list also includes large universities such as Boston University or the University of New Mexico.
University of Massachusetts, Amherst was the first university to require boosters for students. Students must have shots regardless of religious or medical exemptions.
Jeffrey Hescock, codirector of the university’s Public Health Promotion Center, stated that boosters are “our best protection.” This shows that our university takes public health seriously and so do our students.
A petition against the booster mandate has received a few dozen signatures. It cites 97% of students who have been vaccinated, and very few cases on campus. UMass freshman Emily O’Brien said that the booster shot was a reasonable demand. Although she was already planning to get a booster, Emily O’Brien said that the mandate would increase student uptake and prevent future lockdowns.
O’Brien (18), of Bedford, New Hampshire, stated that “if the past six months have demonstrated anything, it’s this: lots of people won’t bother getting vaccines — particularly younger healthy people — when they don’t need to.”
UMass will also need masks for spring term. It’s sending out students with a quick test that can be taken towards the end of winter break.
Many colleges are already preparing for disruption in next semester due to campus outbreaks that occurred during the week following Thanksgiving.
Cornell University closed all campus activities Tuesday. Final exams were moved online after more that 400 students tested positive in two days. President Martha Pollack stated that there was evidence of the Omicron variant in “significant” numbers of samples.
Pollack wrote, “It’s obviously very depressing to have to make these steps.” “However, we have been committed to following the science since the outbreak of the pandemic and doing everything possible to protect the health and well-being of our students, faculty and staff.
Middlebury College, Vermont, switched to remote instruction after a surge of cases. They also urged students not to delay their winter break. Last Thursday, the University of Pennsylvania banned indoor social events due to rising cases.
Tulane University in New Orleans, warned Friday that there were “probable” cases on campus of the omicron variant. This was confirmed by at least one student last Wednesday. School officials responded by reinstituting a mask mandate and expanding virus testing.
Wake Forest University, West Virginia University, and Penn State are some other colleges that have extended the requirements for masks into next year.
Other schools have already delayed the return of students to campus in order to prevent outbreaks. DePaul University in Chicago and Southern New Hampshire University recently announced that students will be able to take classes online for two weeks, before returning to campus following the holidays.
A. Gabriel Esteban (DePaul president) wrote to students that the school would “cautiously begin winter quarter so that we can maintain a strong college experience for the remainder of this academic year.”
Students at Stanford University will be prohibited from hosting parties or other large gatherings when they return to campus in January. As a requirement to take part in classes, they will be tested at least once per week. Russell Furr, associate vice president for environmental health, safety and security, stated that the measures are intended to reduce virus transmission but not limit college experience.
“This is something that we have struggled with throughout the pandemic — what can we do to find a balanced approach?” Furr stated. He stated that the goal was to avoid strict lockdowns like those used in the early stages of the pandemic when student mental health “really struggled”.
Some colleges still have hope for a normal semester. University of Central Florida leaders told professors that they can require attendance in person in spring. This was discouraged in this fall due to a rise in delta cases.
Michael D. Johnson, interim provost, warned in a campus message that if the omicron version takes off, it could be necessary to change our direction.
Omicron’s timing is another concern — even without a new version, there are concerns about more outbreaks when colder weather forces people indoors. Anita Barkin, cochair of the COVID-19 taskforce for American College Health Association, stated that this was another worry.
To avoid a new wave, the association recommended that colleges increase vaccination rates.
Barkin stated that the message of all this is to be vigilant. “There is certain pandemic fatigue, people are tired of the Pandemic — but it seems that the pandemic has not yet tired of us.”