Omicron reaches 2 university campuses; DePaul will go online to start 2022

USC and Tulane report spotting individual cases of the latest COVID-19 variant in students.
By: | December 7, 2021
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Omicron officially has arrived at colleges.

The first individual cases of the latest COVID-19 variant were identified in a student at the University of Southern California and a graduate student at Tulane University in New Orleans.

Tulane has not released a public statement on the case, but USC has, saying the student likely got infected during travel to the East Coast during the Thanksgiving break. Omicron’s emergence in the United States was noted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention just before the holiday.

“The student is currently isolating and doing well,” according to a statement from USC officials, who say the individual is experiencing mild symptoms. “The case was detected as part of USC’s routine surveillance testing program; all campus close contacts have been identified, were notified, and are in quarantine. The individual did not attend classes or organized activities on campus during their infectious period.”

According to a report from Tulane’s student’s newspaper Hullabaloo, the university said the student was being isolated and that the case was ‘not unexpected.’ Omicron, in fact, has now been spotted in 18 states. Whether it will become a dominant strain is still unknown, though public health officials in other countries such as South Africa have noted its high transmissibility. Its severity compared to the delta variant, however, is still being determined.

Either way, at least one university on the quarter system announced is taking an extra precautionary step to protect its community as it returns in early January. DePaul University in Chicago said it will shift to temporary distance learning for two weeks starting Jan. 3, with students returning the Tuesday after Martin Luther King Day. Officials made clear, however, that it was “fully committed to in-person learning.”

“Because we start right after the New Year, before other institutions around the country do, and in the spirit of caring for others, the first two weeks of winter quarter courses will be held online,” President A. Gabriel Esteban and Provost Salma Ghanem said in a joint statement. “This measure—combined with our adherence to local, state and federal COVID-19 guidance—will help us cautiously start winter quarter so we can sustain a robust college experience the remainder of the academic year. Safety and health remain our priorities.”

DePaul said its residence halls will be open on Jan. 2 and some will be able to access campus facilities with swipe cards, though many services will be reduced. Some students will be able to partake in face-to-face classes but only “on a case-by-case basis with approval from Academic Affairs.” Esteban and Ghanem said the decision made now to switch to remote learning will give its faculty time to prepare for the shift in modality. DePaul also is considering having its students provide negative COVID tests upon return.