As the Omicron variant spreads throughout the United States, university campuses are modifying their mode of instructions and their COVID guidelines for the spring 2022 semester.
UNC Charlotte commenced the spring semester with all classes–both undergraduate and graduate–delivered online until January 24. Similarly, Duke went virtual for all classes until January 18. UNC-Chapel Hill, on the other hand, left it up to deans and faculty to review and approve changes in mode of instruction, but as of January 27, UNC has announced that classes will go back to their originally advertised mode of instruction.
For those returning to campus, many schools mandated COVID-19 testing before returning. UNC-Chapel Hill required that the unvaccinated and all students living in residence halls take a PCR test no more than 72 hours before arriving on campus. If positive, students were strongly encouraged to remain at home, or isolate in their residence hall room. NC State University has also required testing for unvaccinated students and staff, and all who live on campus. North Carolina Central University (NCCU) also required both campus residential students and their move-in guests to get tested for COVID-19 before moving in–regardless of vaccination status. UNC Greensboro took a similar approach, except only students living in residence halls were required to test.
According to an article from Inside Higher Ed, some campuses around the country are tightening their masking policies. Among those campuses is NCCU–students and faculty are not only being required to wear masks indoors, like other UNC system schools, but they must wear KN95 masks (or higher-grade masks) in the classroom, not cloth masks. Around the country, the University of Southern California, the University of Arizona, and Cornell are also among the campuses requiring students to wear higher-grade N95 or KN95 masks indoors and in classrooms.
Other campuses around the country are loosening their COVID guidelines as the pandemic is shifting, in the words of Cornell University’s president, “hopefully to an endemic phase.” For instance, Harvard is implementing an “isolate-in-place policy” which essentially means students that test positive for COVID will remain in their dorm, even with their roommates, unlike previously when there were isolation dorms for those who tested positive. The University of Florida is no longer using a COVID dashboard, and has left it to the state to track COVID cases. For testing, The University of Wyoming reduced its mass testing considering that omicron is “a virus that appears to be less dangerous for most people.” UNC-Chapel Hill, more specifically UNC Health, has also changed its testing and is no longer testing asymptomatic individuals.
As the spring semester progresses, we will see how universities react to and manage COVID-19. So far, from January 19 to February 2, UNC-Chapel Hill has seen a drop from 12.56 percent positivity rate for COVID to 10.2 percent according to the Carolina Together Testing Program (CTTP) (where asymptomatic testing is done), and an increase from 34.5 percent to 36 percent according to Campus Health (where symptomatic testing is done). Symptoms have been reported to be mild to moderate. The CTTP notes that these rates are less than the 43 percent positivity rate from UNC Health.
Natalia Mayorga recently graduated with a bachelor’s in psychology from UNC-Chapel Hill and is a Martin Center intern.