As the Omicron surge spreads across the country, sending Covid-19 case counts to new heights and disrupting daily life, some universities are preparing for a new phase of the pandemic — one that acknowledges that the virus is here to stay and requires a rethinking of how to handle life on campus.
Schools are asking: Should there still be mass testing? Does there need to be contact tracing? What about tracking the number of cases — and posting them on campus dashboards? And when there is a spike in cases, do classes need to go remote?
Universities from Northeastern in Boston to the University of California-Davis have begun to discuss Covid in “endemic” terms — a shift from reacting to each spike of cases as a crisis to the reality of living with it daily. And in some cases, there has been backlash.
“I think we’re in a period of transition, hopefully to an endemic phase,” Martha Pollack, president of Cornell University, said. “I say hopefully because with this pandemic, we don’t know what’s coming next.”
containment to management,” abandoning the mass testing it instituted last year. Last fall, the school tested 10,000 people over four days, according to Chad Baldwin, associate vice president for communications and marketing.
But this semester, he said, the university’s health advisory panel concluded that Omicron was so widespread that mass testing, by gathering people in one place, might actually do more harm than good. The public university, in Laramie, serves about 12,000 students.
“We feel like we have managed our way through this pretty well,” Mr. Baldwin said. And with Omicron, he added, “we’re facing a virus that appears to be less dangerous for most people — and we’re encouraged.”
petition signed by 7,500 people, referencing Dr. May’s use of the term “endemic,” accused the university of “not prioritizing the immuno-compromised, the disabled, unvaccinated people, children, those who live with people from any of these groups, or the general health of the public.”
Most in-person classes have been delayed until Jan. 31. “People were sharing their concerns, and the campus leaders listened,” said Julia Ann Easley, a spokeswoman for the university, who also noted a growing Covid-19 case count on campus.
Rice University, with 8,000 students, moved many classes to remote instruction this month and encouraged students to delay returning to campus until late January. And, like many schools, it recently required students and employees to get booster shots.
Yet its president, David W. Leebron, sees his campus, in Houston, soon entering what he called a “posture that recognizes Covid-19 as endemic.”