December 15, 2021
Facing rising infections and a new COVID-19 variant, colleges across the U.S. have once again been thwarted in seeking a move to normalcy and are starting to require booster shots, extend mask mandates, limit social gatherings and, in some cases, revert to online classes.
The threat of the omicron variant comes as a gut punch to schools that were hoping to relax safety measures this spring. Now, many are telling students to prepare for another term of masking, testing and, if cases get bad, limits around social life.
Cornell University abruptly shut down all campus activities on Tuesday and moved final exams online after more than 700 students tested positive over three days. In a campus message, President Martha Pollack said there was evidence of the omicron variant in a “significant” number of samples.
“It is obviously extremely dispiriting to have to take these steps,” Pollack wrote. “However, since the start of the pandemic, our commitment has been to follow the science and do all we can to protect the health of our faculty, staff and students.
Hours later, Princeton University moved its exams online and urged students to leave campus “at their earliest convenience” amid a rise in cases. On Wednesday, New York University canceled all non-academic events and encouraged professors to move finals online.
Cornell, Princeton and NYU all report student vaccination rates of more than 98%.
After a fall with few coronavirus cases, officials at Syracuse University were “feeling pretty good” about the spring term, said Kent Syverud, the upstate New York school’s chancellor.
“But omicron has changed that,” Syverud said. “It has made us go back and say, until we know more about this variant for sure, we’re going to have to reinstate some precautions.”