More COVID-concerned colleges going remote in early January, or moving start dates back

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A number of American universities have either decided to go remote for the early part of the spring semester beginning in January 2022, or in some cases have moved back their actual spring semester start dates for the beginning of next year’s instruction. 

Others have told students to stand by for possible announcements about it, citing concerns about the surge of the Omicron variant of COVID-19. 

That’s according to new emails sent out over the past few days to students and the wider university populations, and according to other university-centric reports as well.

Columbia University in Manhattan, for example, announced this week that its first two weeks of classes for the spring 2022 semester will occur remotely, administration officials said in an email to students and the Columbia University community.

Students will be able to have access to campus before and during the two-week remote period, the school said, but they will be required to follow new testing requirements and safety measures, according to reports.

A portion of the Columbia University campus in New York City is shown in this image. The school has announced a two-week remote learning period to start off the spring semester in January 2022. (File)

“This two-week remote learning period is designed to minimize disruptions for students who may be unable to travel or who must isolate because of COVID-19. It will also allow a period for gateway testing of all students prior to the start of in-person classes,” a university email said.

In making that announcement, Columbia cited other “peer institutions” that are doing the same thing — namely, Harvard, which recently announced it’s shifting to remote operations for the first three weeks of January. Stanford University in California reportedly announced a similar policy on Thursday, going to online instruction for the first two weeks of its winter quarter.

Duke University in North Carolina said that most classes from January 5 to January 8 would be remote, but that in-person classes are likely to resume January 10, according to reports. 

Dr. Marc Siegel, Fox News medical analyst and a professor of medicine at New York University Langone Medical Center in New York City, said several days ago that it’s “very premature” for colleges to discuss plans to shift to remote learning for the spring 2022 semester. 

He said universities have a “built-in quarantine situation” allowing for rapid testing and additional measures — such as making sure everyone has a COVID booster vaccination, as Fox News reported earlier this week.

Meantime, UCLA has said its classes will start on January 3 as planned — but the first two weeks will be held remotely and students are being instructed to return to campus by January 9 for testing.

In Washington, D.C., The George Washington University sent out an email to students on Wednesday that read, in part: “We write today to update you on our planning for spring semester operations. The number of positive COVID-19 cases among our community members continues to increase and remains high.” 

It added, “This current surge, largely fueled by the Omicron variant, has required us to review our approach to how we return to campus in the new year and commence the Spring 2022 semester while ensuring our students, faculty and staff remain healthy and safe.”

Students walk on the Stanford University campus in Stanford, Calif., on March 14, 2019. Stanford students will begin their spring semester starting January 2022 with two weeks of online learning. (AP Photo/Ben Margot, File)
(AP Photo/Ben Margot)

The school continued, “Our Medical Advisory Group continues to monitor data on COVID-19 transmission on our campuses and in the region, as well as local and federal public health guidance. In addition, the CDC is predicting a potential peak in COVID-19 cases in January. Based on this information, we are developing plans based on a number of scenarios.” 

It went on, “At this time, we plan to begin the spring semester virtually to allow for a gradual and careful in-person return to campus. We anticipate that this will be a temporary adjustment, and we are projecting that full in-person operations will resume on January 18, following the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. The university, including libraries and laboratories, will reopen after winter break on January 3.”

In upstate New York, Syracuse University told its students, parents, alumni, and wider community in an email distributed on Thursday, “Given the sharp increase in COVID cases, the rapid spread of the Omicron variant, and warnings from public health officials that the first three weeks of January will be the most challenging of this surge, the University will delay the start of the spring semester for one week.”

The Syracuse University email continued, “In-person class will now begin on January 24” — then added, “Spring break will remain as previously scheduled: March 13-20.”

The Universities of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and at Chicago said that they will start the spring semester online. 

Some students will be on campus and will be undergoing testing during some of this period, some reports said.

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