The waves of positive cases of the BA.2 variant did not prevent certain institutions from remaining hidden as an option.
The state of Michigan remains one of the nation’s hotspots for COVID-19, with cases increasing more than 145% in the past two weeks. And yet colleges and universities there are undeterred in keeping masks closed for indoor locations as they strive to complete the semester in a “new normal” mode.
Although the University of Michigan recorded 510 positive cases in its last reporting period for a positivity rate of 3.2% – its highest since late January – it simply sent a warning to its community last Thursday saying that most cases on campus were mild, while encouraging vaccinations and masking. Late last week, Michigan State University announced it would keep its vaccine mandate for next year, but decided to lift its mask policy. After a spike to start the semester, the number of cases has remained fairly low at 1.3% positivity, and his county hasn’t seen the same increase as the rest of the state.
“It is clear that our COVID-19 mitigation efforts have been successful in allowing MSU to continue most in-person classes and activities safely,” President Samuel Stanley said in a statement. “We continue to see a sustained decline in COVID‑19 cases on campus, and with the wide availability of PCR, antigen and home testing in the community, EDP and Clinical Center testing which has been crucial to our success at the start of the pandemic can be done safely. be interrupted now. As we have done since the start of 2020, we will continue to monitor and respond to the pandemic as needed. »
These latter keywords are used by many campus leaders in their announcements, whether they are lifting the masks, keeping them on, or starting to wear them again. Their ability to pivot when necessary has been crucial to maintaining operations – and especially face-to-face learning – throughout the academic year. University of Connecticut leaders, feeling a bit more worried about the status of cases, reinstated mask mandates for all of their campuses on Monday due to a 54% increase in positive COVID test results across the board. state, including more than 150 cases at UConn. Provost and Executive Vice President of Academic Affairs Carl Lejuez said, “As always, the university is adjusting its public health measures based on circumstances and available data.”
While the University of Michigan has been battling those cases to try to get to the end of the semester with optional masks — banking on vaccinations, current isolation space, and testing availability — schools such that UConn, Georgetown, American University and others are wary of spikes that could impact major events over the next few weeks. “The purpose of this decision is to protect health on our campuses and to ensure that the remaining weeks of the semester and UConn commencement ceremonies can take place in person,” Lejuez said. “A widespread outbreak that overwhelms university health services and available isolation space could potentially disrupt both.”
Other Key Variables Guide Decisions
In Connecticut, one of the main considerations for the return of masks is that hospitalizations have increased by 24% in the state, a trend that has emerged over the past two weeks in the Northeast, where New Hampshire , Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New York State saw similar increases. Columbia University was one of several New York-area institutions to reinstate masks, with cases up 57%, though the city has yet to be hit by the spike in hospitalizations.
“Continued caution in certain situations remains extremely important, particularly in indoor social settings when participants’ vaccination status is unknown or uncertain,” said Donna Lynne, senior vice president and chief operating officer of Columbia, in a statement. communicated.
Public health officials in other urban areas also expressed concern ahead of last weekend, particularly with the gatherings occurring around Passover and Easter. In Philadelphia, institutions had no choice but to hand out masks after the city opted to make them mandatory in indoor spaces. Cases in Pennsylvania jumped 100%, and in Philadelphia they were up 81%. Temple, Drexel and St. Joseph’s were all forced to reinstate the requirements on Monday.
“We realize the demands of the city can be frustrating. However, we must take the advice of local public health authorities seriously,” Cary Anderson, vice president for student life and vice provost at St. Joseph’s University, told students. “Hopefully we can return to a mask-optional situation as soon as possible.”
The rise of omicron’s BA.2 sub-variant doesn’t seem to let up. More than 30 states have seen cases increase in the past 14 days and they are particularly high in the aforementioned states, as well as in Delaware (+87%), Maryland (+83%), Washington (+77%) and Kansas (+70%). While individual institutions have handed out masks due to rising cases on campus, including Bowdoin in Maine, DePaul in Illinois and Skidmore in upstate New York, the majority of institutions that removed the masks, like Michigan, keep them.
Brown University is sticking to its mask-optional COVID-19 policy despite in-state increases and 150 positive cases on campus. “We will be watching very carefully,” Russell Carey, executive vice president for planning and policy Russell Carey, said in a statement. “We see a continuation of what we expected, after a break, after people travel. But we are not currently making any changes to campus policies or protocols. »
Two key messages that institutions continue to send – regardless of which side of the mask leaders decide – are that students, staff and faculty should continue to be vaccinated, including boosters, and that those who are subject quarantine wear masks for five more days. even after the end of their period of isolation. A new study from Boston University has indeed shown that 17% of students who self-tested after the fifth day were still positive and potentially still capable of transmitting the virus.