With COVID-19 cases rising hand in hand with the omicron variant and students getting ready to return from winter break, dozens of universities in the United States plan to teach again … but online, for at least the first week the semester, but some warn they could extend them if the wave of infections does not subside soon.
Harvard University will be teaching online during the first three weeks of the new year, with the return to campus scheduled for the end of January, “if conditions permit.” The University of Chicago postponed the start of the new semester and will carry out the first two weeks on the internet. Others, like Michigan State University, are inviting students back to campus, but starting classes on the web.
Many hope that an additional week or two will allow them to pass the peak of the national rise in infections caused by omicron. Still, the increase is causing uncertainty about a semester that many had hoped would be the closest to normal since the start of the pandemic.RELATED
For some students, starting the semester with classes remotely has become routine. Many schools used that strategy last year amid a flurry of cases, but some fear the change could last more than a week or two.
Jake Maynard, a student at George Washington University in the capital, said he doesn’t mind a week of online classes, but beyond that, he hopes authorities will trust the booster doses and provide the traditional college experience.
Maynard already took a whole year of classes on the Internet, which in his opinion “did not work” and which was not the experience he expected from a school that charges more than $ 50,000 a year.
“I’m in my sophomore year, but half of my experience has been online,” said Maynard, 20, a former resident of Ellicott City, Maryland. “You miss a lot of what makes the school a school.”
The university has invited students to return to campus starting Monday, but classes will run online until January 18, as school authorities increase testing and isolate infected students. The school has more than doubled its space dedicated to students in isolation and pushed the deadline for booster shots forward by three weeks due to the omicron.
“The omicron variant hits us at a terrible time, basically the last two weeks of the fall semester, which doesn’t give us enough time to prepare for spring,” said Dr. Lynn Goldman, dean of the University’s faculty of public health. George Washington.
The university was among many that saw an increase in infections in the days before winter break. The campus averaged more than 80 cases a day in final exam week, compared to just a few daily for most of the fall. And while most of the cases were mild, nearly all were among students who received at least two doses of a coronavirus vaccine.
On the goal of resuming classes in person in the middle of the month, Goldman said officials “recognize that there are chances that it will not be possible.”
So far, more than 70 universities in 26 states are starting the cycle online, and others say they are pondering it. Many who took the step employ trimester systems that start earlier than those with semesters.
Many are in hotbeds of recent infections, including George Washington, Yale and Columbia on the East Coast and Wayne State University in Detroit and Northwestern University near Chicago. The list also includes most of the campuses of the University of California and Rice University in Houston.
At the University of California Riverside campus, students will be able to physically return on Monday, but face two weeks of classes online. They have also been asked to isolate themselves for five days while undergoing two rounds of testing for the virus.
It’s the first time since last spring that the school has fully transitioned to remote teaching, but Principal Kim Wilcox said it’s the best way to prevent the virus from spreading once students return from the holidays.
“We see it as rebuilding our bubble,” he said. “It gives us the opportunity to restart things and then hopefully get started.”
Some other universities are delaying the new cycle without offering remote classes. Syracuse postponed its semester for a week, citing projections that the first three weeks of January will be “the most difficult of this rebound” of infections.
Others are pushing for face-to-face teaching, claiming the risks are low given the facemasks and booster shots.
At Northeastern University in Boston, one of which is requiring booster doses, students will return to classrooms as planned. Authorities said the school is shifting its focus from preventing all infections to avoiding severe symptoms and hospitalization.
“As we enter this endemic phase of the pandemic, our task is to continue to control COVID effectively, not to let COVID control us,” said Ken Henderson, president and vice president for learning, in a message to campus.
Republican Gov. Charlie Baker praised the move, saying that COVID-19 posed little risk to college students, while “prolonged isolation is a very real risk to their growth and mental health.”
The University of Florida plans to return to classes in person at the beginning of the semester, despite a request from a faculty union to teach remotely in the first three weeks.
Paul Ortiz, a campus delegate for the United Faculty of Florida, said older teachers will be at higher risk, especially without mask and vaccine mandates, which have been banned by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis.
“We don’t want our campus to become a superdisseminator,” Ortiz said. “There is a lot of uncertainty right now, a lot of stress.”
At some colleges that start their school year online, authorities say they are committed to an early return to the classroom.
The campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, with 50,000 students, plans to resume face-to-face classes after a week of remote instruction. Students have been encouraged to return during the first week to take two tests for the virus, which will allow them to return to activities in person if they are negative.
“Every semester we have had a hike when the students came back,” explained university spokeswoman Robin Kaler. “We want to make sure that we are in control so that we can stop it as quickly as possible.”