While some are relaxing their policies, surges in cases are prompting others to stand by protocols until fall.
As spinoffs of omicron keep positive COVID-19 case counts high across the country, universities are unveiling plans for much quieter summer sessions—some with mitigation strategies still in place and others with fewer protocols than they had in the spring.
On Monday, Syracuse University began its shift into the “endemic” phase of campus management for the next couple of months, according to a letter to its community from President J. Michael Haynie. It is suspending all campus testing, halting updates on its COVID-19 dashboard and eliminating its COVID Project Management Office. Syracuse is also allowing personnel to travel again to serve the university, but with a caution to those who do.
“Faculty and staff travelers are strongly encouraged to plan for the possibility of contracting COVID-19 and the need to isolate with consequent travel disruption,” he wrote. “Departments or units sponsoring student travel must have a plan to accommodate any student required to isolate or quarantine during travel and be prepared to support the traveler during any confinement.”
At +9%, New York state is one of the few where positive cases aren’t at least in double digits. However, the BA.2.12 variant and others have caused numbers in the Northeast to surge again—with neighboring Pennsylvania and Connecticut up by 158% and 130%, respectively, over the past two weeks. Hospitalizations are also up by more than 30% in both states. Across the nation, cases are up more than 50% and the U.S. just surpassed a grim milestone of one million deaths from COVID-19.
Still, that hasn’t stopped institutions from hosting large commencement ceremonies over the past few weeks, even in areas where COVID is spiking, utilizing outdoor venues to hold them as safely as they can, even in sweltering conditions. Tulane University successfully had its big ceremony outdoors with speaker Ken Jeong this weekend even while Louisiana’s numbers are up 138%. Eastern Kentucky University held its commencement on Friday (132% rise statewide in cases), with reports of a few students and guests requiring treatment because of the heat.
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Most universities are forging on, even with COVID in the air, and they are planning to do the same in June, July and part of August, with fewer protocols in place.
- Like Syracuse, North Carolina State University is abandoning its COVID dashboard, stating that because of the amount of home testing being done and a lack of reporting, “data tracking no longer provides a comprehensive look at COVID-19’s impact on campus.”
- Officials at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have lifted masking requirements for face-to-face classes while limiting on-campus testing to one location, though they note that fall strategies have not been determined. They said they will not be offering regular weekly updates on campus COVID status during the summer. Western Illinois University has ended virtually all masking requirements except for those who are symptomatic and stopped daily email self-checks.
- Missouri State University is also eliminating the majority of its COVID policies, including halting its COVID dashboard, masking, testing and athletics re-entry, according to President Clif Smart. On June 30, employees also will no longer be able to take emergency paid leave for COVID-19, which gave full- and part-time workers eight additional days if they tested positive since early January. “Vaccines are readily available, hospitalization rates are much lower, and the medical community has more research and new tools at its disposal to manage COVID-19,” Smart said.
Not every institution is ready to give up on COVID safety strategies. Both the University of Hawaii system and the Contra Costa County Community College District in California say they will maintain their masking requirements through the summer. Hawaii’s decision came after meetings with public health officials, who noted the surge in cases on the islands, now a nearly 70% increase over the past 14 days. California’s state numbers, which can vary widely depending on location, are up 83% overall. In Contra Costa, they are up 114%.
Even with decisions to mask or unmask, college campus leaders are continuing to encourage students, staff and faculty to get vaccinated (including boosters) heading into the summer and fall and report to their institutions that they have received them.
“We’re striving to get as many in our IU community as possible to be fully vaccinated,” Dr. Lana Dbeibo, director of vaccine initiatives for Indiana University’s Medical Response Team, said in a statement. “We know that 40 to 50 percent of people with COVID-19, and capable of shedding the virus, don’t show any symptoms. That, in addition to the continued emergence of variants, makes it even more necessary that we all get vaccinated as soon as possible.”