Can colleges and universities get through April without big COVID spikes? |

A large institution of higher education has abandoned most of its mitigation strategies, including contact tracing and isolation.

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The semester was going fairly well at the University of Michigan after a rocky start in which nearly 2,000 positive COVID cases emerged. Those numbers had fallen to just 29 in the first week of March.

But since then they have risen steadily enough to catch the attention of institution leaders – 187 cases in the week ending March 26 and a few hundred more in preliminary results over the past week.

“After weeks of declining COVID-19 cases in our region, we are now seeing a trend of increasing case counts both on campus and in the wider community,” said the director of the UM Campus COVID Response Robert Ernst and Director of Health Preeti Malani. A declaration. “Many of these cases can be linked to unmasked social gatherings. Additionally, the spread of Omicron’s BA.2 subvariant has increased to account for more than half of cases in the Midwest region.

The stealth variant is rapidly spreading to many parts of the United States. A month ago, no state was seeing an increase in cases. Now, 21 states are showing an increase in cases over the past two weeks (Nevada +104%, New York +77, Massachusetts +68%). Michigan isn’t among them, still down 10% overall, but Washtenaw County, where the university’s main campus is located, is one of the nation’s hotspots, up 243%. The two University of Michigan leaders therefore responded with a message to students: “With only one month of classes remaining, it is now time for our community to finish the winter semester strong,” officials said.

Michigan’s increase is not unique. Cornell University saw a sharp rise in cases a few weeks ago and Princeton University showed a 9% positivity rate among undergraduates last week after processing just a few cases in early March. Stanford University recently saw 200 new cases and the same number of isolated individuals. Aside from spring break and increased gatherings, one of the factors likely to push the numbers higher is the large-scale removal of masks at a time when the highly transmissible BA.2 variant is gaining momentum. Michigan relaxed its mask policy for indoor spaces several weeks ago, and Connecticut State Colleges and Stanford followed suit. Most like Michigan are telling students who show symptoms to mask up. Some communities with large college populations are seeing outsized numbers — in and around Atlanta there’s an almost 600% increase in cases.

But the same increase does not occur everywhere. In fact, some are barely seeing any positive results, pointing out that BA.2 hasn’t infiltrated most counties like Delta did last year, at least not yet. And so, institutions like Auburn University have not only reopened with a goal, but are telling students, faculty and staff that the new path will simply be to deal with coronavirus variants as they arise. happen, unless things get really serious.

“The university will begin to treat COVID-19 as it does other contagious diseases, such as influenza, so that the university can evolve into an environment that treats COVID-19 like a current virus, which is increasing and decreasing in number of cases,” Auburn officials said in a statement. .

So what does this mean?

There will be no more reporting of data or vaccines. There will be no more contact tracing. Even when positive rates were extremely high, the university said it struggled to keep up with them. The university has removed enhanced cleaning measures. And there will be no more quarantine and isolation accommodation. Auburn’s plan is to have students self-isolate, and once they feel they are symptom-free after five days, they can go outside provided they wear a mask for five days. what’s more. When it comes to possible missed assignments or exams, this responsibility lies with the students. “As with any other illness, it is the responsibility of students who test positive or are required to quarantine per CDC guidelines to contact their instructors to discuss missed classes, homework, tests, etc.,” Auburn says. .

Other universities are also getting rid of basic mitigation strategies. Northeastern University in Boston is phasing out PCR testing in early May, with officials saying the combination of its highly vaccinated population, lack of serious student outcomes and myriad treatments available mean they are also leaning towards the endemic phase of the disease. disease.

Although the short-term results may portend full recovery for individuals, researchers explored the potential long-term impacts of COVID. A new study published by Tulane University shows that people who contract the virus can suffer severe brain inflammation and neuron death. This was true even for healthy people and those who had no respiratory problems after contracting COVID. More work needs to be done to show the effects of long COVID, but that could be a consideration for leaders as they reopen or try to provide support to those affected.

Another decision that could affect both healthcare facilities, researchers, students and campus workers is whether Congress will pass a $10 billion COVID-19 relief package pushed by Biden that includes future vaccines and tests. What was considered a slam dunk was met with resistance from Senate Republicans this week.