Health

DC-area universities go remote amidst omicron case surge

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As the omicron and delta variants of the coronavirus continue to infect people across the U.S., two universities in the nation’s capital announced Wednesday that some classes would be held virtually at the start of the 2022 spring semester.

Leaders at American University and Georgetown University, both located in Washington, D.C., penned letters to their communities, citing the surge as the reason for their decisions. 

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American said it would temporarily move classes online from Jan. 10-30, with in-person instruction resuming the next day. It would also explore possible arrangements for some science labs and arts courses with “unique in-person requirements.” 

All students, faculty and staff are “strongly recommended” to take a COVID-19 test – either PCR or antigen – before returning to campus, and everyone is required to test within 48 hours of being on campus. 

“Additional testing requirements will be in place during January for vaccinated community members, and unvaccinated individuals with approved exemptions will be required to test twice a week,” the school’s leaders wrote. “Certain populations may also have additional testing requirements based specific activities or risk. If you test positive, you will be required to isolate for five days. We are following the CDC’s updated isolation protocols, but we will also require a negative test to leave isolation.”

On-campus testing will resume on Jan. 3 and dining services at American will be modified, with grab-and-go options available. Campus events will be online and no campus visitors or guests are allowed for the month of January.

A mask requirement remains in effect for all campus buildings and boosters are still required for all eligible community members by Feb. 10.

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“While we sought to avoid another move to online classes, this is not a return to the situation we faced in spring 2020,” American University said. “Rather, it is a short-term, prudent approach to the current situation and risk factors. These measures will help keep our community safe; provide time to make any additional adjustments needed to help us continue to live, learn, and work with the ongoing spread of the virus; and support in-person classes and activities for rest of the spring semester. We are also working to help our community members as the rise in cases affects other parts of our lives, from family health to K-12 schools.”

Georgetown University President John J. DeGioia wrote that the school’s adjusted approach would also include virtual instruction through Jan. 30, with in-person classes resuming that Monday.

Washington, D.C., USA - April 9, 2012. Healy Hall with the statue of Georgetown University founder John Carroll in front and some people walking in background. Georgetown University is a top-ranking private university in the United States. It is located in the historic district of Georgetown in Northwest Washington, D.C."

Washington, D.C., USA – April 9, 2012. Healy Hall with the statue of Georgetown University founder John Carroll in front and some people walking in background. Georgetown University is a top-ranking private university in the United States. It is located in the historic district of Georgetown in Northwest Washington, D.C.”
(iStock)

Due to this change, residential students may either move into on-campus residencies starting on Jan. 11 or later in the month.

In-person campus gatherings will be limited, with events being held virtually or outdoors, and “arrival testing” will be a requirement for all students, faculty and staff.

A pool of randomly selected fully vaccinated students, faculty and staff members are tested every week at Georgetown and the school has specific testing protocols for students who remained in the region over winter break versus those who are traveling from outside the area.

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DeGioia said the “updates” to Georgetown’s public health framework were “shaped by” recommendations from Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Ranit Mishori, in addition to guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the D.C. Department of Health. 

“I deeply appreciate the engagement of each member of our community as we continue to navigate this challenging moment, together, as a university,” he concluded.

Many top colleges and universities have made similar decisions over the past few weeks, including New York University, Cornell University, Princeton University, Harvard University and Middlebury University.

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