How the U of R is Tackling the Omicron Variant

How the U of R is Tackling the Omicron Variant

With the new Omicron variant and rise in COVID cases in the United States, the university is facing the difficult decision of how to safely resume in-person learning while implementing enhanced safety measures for the time being. 

On January 2, just eight days before the start of the spring semester, the university announced instruction would begin online for the first week. Enhanced safety measures involved requiring negative tests for anyone moving back to campus and encouraging booster shots for all students. 

Within this initial email, the university’s administration and COVID task force detailed more of their plans, stating that everyone coming back to campus would need to provide proof of a negative test to return to campus and that booster shots would eventually be required. This email also stated that students returning to campus would need to retest 3-5 days after their return and to report those results as well. Furthermore, those who are not yet boosted are subject to a weekly testing requirement.

The university’s plans to begin the semester online meant that any students who were stuck at home due to testing positive for COVID or being exposed to the virus would have a safe way to continue their studies; plans for in person instruction were to begin on January 18 and a definitive decision on in-person learning to be made by January 14.   

Around this same time, universities such as Stanford were making similar decisions with the start of their winter quarter beginning online from January 3 to January 18. The statement posted on their website read, “In coming back for the winter quarter, we want to minimize disruptions to students’ coursework and also provide as much predictability as possible for both students and instructors.” 

Other universities like DePaul, Harvard, Penn State, and USC also opted for online starts to the semester for the safety of their student body and staff. Seven University of California schools also began their terms online, including Davis, Irvine, Los Angeles, San Diego, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz and Riverside.

Moreover, other schools are considering requiring boosters, much like the University of Redlands. Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut stated on November 23 that all students and staff will need to get their COVID-19 booster shots before being allowed to return to campus. St. Joseph’s in Maine states on their website that boosters are required and that they have a rate of 86% of their community boosted and 99% vaccinated. Other universities like the University of Rochester stated on November 29th that they were only recommending boosters but revised that on December 23rd to instead require that all students and staff receive the booster.

While students at the University of Redlands awaited confirmation for in-person learning to begin on January 18, many struggled to find tests in the surge of cases from the holiday season. 

Originally, the university mandated that every student who had not tested positive for COVID-19 would need to take a PCR test 3-5 days before their arrival so the results of the test could come in time. The PCR test detects if you have any RNA from the coronavirus in your system, which can be present for up to 3 months after initially testing positive for COVID. Because of this, students who tested positive over break were asked to take an antigen test instead which determines whether or not a person has an active infection.

In the update sent out on January 14, concerns regarding not being able to find tests were addressed by the university. Students, regardless of testing status in the last 90 days, could submit an antigen test if they were unable to get an appointment for a PCR near them. 

In this email, the university also confirmed that in-person learning would begin on January 18 and that the enhanced safety protocols would be in place until the 24th. In an email sent on Wednesday, January 19, they extended this period until the 31st of January. Additionally, an improved mask protocol that required students to double mask when using disposable or cloth masks and urged students to wear N95, KN95, and KF94 masks was implemented. The university also stated that N95 masks would be given out in various spots on campus to keep the student body safe. 

Photo contributed by Bulldog photographer Kyle Eaton.