COVID-19 disrupts college life again as campuses close

The resurrection coronavirus is once again disrupting a growing number of US colleges, disrupting in-person classes, disrupting sporting events and otherwise impeding campus life.

Several schools across the country abruptly announced this week that students will be completing their semesters remotely, given the alarming rates of COVID-19 positivity in their communities. While many students have been urged to return to campuses in the fall, the Omicron variant sends them home sooner.

On Wednesday, New York University announced that a “dramatic acceleration” in new cases of COVID-19 in the region would effectively close its campus before the start of winter recess on December 22. The increase comes despite 99% of NYU in-person students and full-time faculty members getting vaccinated.

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School leaders immediately canceled all non-essential gatherings, including parties, sporting events, club meetings and more. Common areas in the dorms, as well as sports facilities for students and teachers, are also off limits, while study groups cannot meet in person.

“Study groups should plan to meet remotely rather than in person,” NYU said in a note. While the school dining rooms remain open, students are encouraged to eat out or have their meals to go.

“It’s not quite how we expected to end the semester; however, if there’s any consistency with the coronavirus, it’s its unpredictability,” the school said.

NYU executives added that they plan to invite faculty and students to campus for the spring semester based on health advice.

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NYU’s move comes after Princeton University in Princeton, New Jersey, announced Tuesday that all final exams will be administered remotely. The Ivy League institution has seen an increase in COVID-19 infections among undergraduates over the past 24 hours, including suspected cases of Omicron.

The state of New Jersey requires people who test positive to self-isolate for 10 days whether or not they show symptoms. Princeton has said it does not want its students “to remain on campus in the isolation required during the holidays.”

Additionally, Princeton Dean Jill Dolan and Vice President of Campus Life Rochelle Calhoun said all indoor gatherings involving food and where face coverings cannot be worn, such as singing performances, must be canceled or postponed. A decision on what form the spring semester takes will be made before Jan. 7, the school said.

Princeton also plans to implement a recall mandate for all community members who qualify.

“Extremely disheartening”

Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, where 97% of the campus population is vaccinated, also canceled all campus activities on Tuesday and moved final exams online after more than 400 students tested positive for COVID -19 over a 48 hour period.

Cornel President Martha Pollack noted that a “significant” number of cases indicated the Omicron variant.

“It is obviously extremely disheartening to have to take these steps,” Pollack said in a letter to members of the Ithaca community. “However, since the start of the pandemic, our commitment has been to follow the science and do all we can to protect the health of our faculty, staff and students.”

Last week, Vermont’s Middlebury College also switched to distance education for the remainder of the winter amid a similar increase in COVID-19 cases. The University of Pennsylvania has banned all year-end indoor social events.

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