Omicron push leads universities to change spring semester schedule


With the recent increase in Covid-19 cases, colleges and universities across the country are making changes in the spring semester to move the highly transmissible variant of the omicron away from campus.

While some public health experts have said that omicron could lead to fewer hospitalizations, especially in those vaccinated, the new variant is responsible for a sudden increase in infections. It accounted for about 59% of Covid-19 infections in the United States during the week ending December 25, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In response, several institutions – including Howard, Princeton and Syracuse universities – are delaying the start of the spring semester by about a week.

“Because the pandemic continues and the highly transmissible variant of omicron presents another public health challenge, the university has decided to organize a phased return for undergraduates,” Jill Dolan, dean of the college from Princeton University, and W. Rochelle Calhoun, vice president for campus life, wrote in a note.

Other schools – including most of the campuses in the University of California, Stanford University and Northwestern University system – have announced plans to start the spring semester with distance learning.

Anna Bershteyn, assistant professor in the population health department at New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine, said the best method of mitigation – delay or move away – depends on the culture of the school, but all institutions should look further into the future and prepare for beyond. the coming semester.

“From my perspective, omicron is, in some ways, an opportunity and a warning for us,” Bershteyn said. “Even though it re-infects people, escapes our previous immune response, and spreads very easily, it’s milder, and I don’t think that had to be true. I think it’s entirely possible in the future that a highly mutated variant will be much more lethal.

Bershteyn explained that many schools have the infrastructure to create safe environments for their students by establishing well-ventilated rooms with air purifiers, requiring readily available Covid-19 tests, imposing masks and encouraging or rendering compulsory vaccination and reminders. With all of these measures in place, she said an educational institution has the potential to be one of the safest places – and that should largely be the focus right now.

“For some people, it might be safer for them to be on campus if all of these controls are in place versus any alternative, depending on their alternative,” Bershteyn said.

As the New Year approaches and student vacation ends, colleges and universities across the country are announcing recall requirements. More than a thousand schools already require vaccination against Covid-19, and a growing number are announcing vaccine booster requirements.

“For colleges that haven’t required immunizations, they should,” said Gigi Gronvall, senior researcher at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security at the Bloomberg School of Public Health. “They should need booster doses, which should be available to anyone of college age.”

Gronvall explained that the widespread immunization and booster warrants are especially necessary when one thinks of “medically vulnerable people who are fully up to date with their vaccines and yet at risk of serious complications.”

California State University, the largest four-year university in the country, with a student body of approximately 485,549 students, will require all eligible students, faculty, and staff on 23 campuses to be reminded by February 28. .

Howard University announced Monday that all faculty and students, except for approved medical and religious exemptions, will need to be vaccinated against Covid-19 by January 31. Booster injections are available on campus.

“At the end of the day, you’re more protected if you’re vaccinated,” said Anthony K. Wutoh, president and academic director of Howard University, and Hugh Mighty, senior vice president of health affairs, in a statement. hurry.

As variations arise and institutions adapt, Gronvall no longer imagines a future without Covid-19 but rather encourages people to consider incorporating safety measures into daily life, planning for the social distancing and the Covid-19 test in the strongest months while looking to the summer for the potential reprieve. She said the key to our “new normal” is keeping those most physically vulnerable in mind, masking, vaccinating and adapting as things change.

“The things we can do are pretty much the same as before,” said Gronvall. “There is no magic variant, and we have a lot of tools that can be of help.”


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