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Citing climb in COVID cases, Tulane allows undergraduates to finish semester online

Albert Herring
Tulane Public Relations

Tulane University undergraduate students now have the option of completing the fall semester online, officials announced Sunday, citing a recent surge in COVID-19 cases.

Cases began to climb last Tuesday, when 13 students tested positive for the virus. The next day, 36 students and one staff member tested positive, followed by 23 students on Thursday and 22 students and 3 staff members on Friday. Prior to last week, the university had been reporting just one or two new cases a day.

“We know that the announcement of this remote option is a further disruption in what has been a most challenging two years,” senior school officials said in an email to students and staff. “But this action seems to be the most prudent course and is intended to give students and faculty more options to deal with a complicated educational and health environment.”

The university performs some of the most extensive surveillance testing in the city and was tracking 119 active cases as of Saturday, according to its dashboard.

The university reported its first omicron case in a graduate student last Monday. On Friday, the university said it had identified additional probable cases, but did not share specifics.

Tulane’s 7-day average percent positivity rate is 1.7%, according to its dashboard which was last updated on Saturday, though that same day, 15 people tested positive for the virus out of 85 tests.

The university has completed more than 77,000 tests this semester and has identified 438 COVID-19 cases, which brings its overall percent positivity rate for the semester to less than 1%.

“The positivity rate is still lower than what we have experienced at several intervals during the past two years, and those testing positive are, as far as we know, either asymptomatic or experiencing mild symptoms,” officials said.

If the uptick had occurred mid-semester, officials said changes likely would not have been made, but given the closeness to the end of the semester and the holidays, the surge had caused great “complexity” and “anxiety.”

In addition to offering undergraduate students the option to complete the fall semester online, the university also reinstated its on-campus mask mandate Friday and has increased the frequency of student and staff testing to at least once every 7-10 days.

All undergraduate classes will be moved online, though the timeline will vary from class to class. Individual faculty can continue teaching in-person, officials said, as long as accommodations are also made for students to attend remotely. The final day of the semester, including exams, is Dec. 21.

Officials said the increase in cases had been limited to undergraduate students and that a remote option would not be extended to graduate and professional students uniformly, adding that individual programs could still decide to move classes and exams to online.

COVID-positive students are being isolated at off-campus locations until Dec. 23, officials said, adding that if a student needed a place to isolate after that, they should contact the dean of students.

Loyola University of New Orleans also reported an uptick in COVID-19 cases last week and has confirmed 75 new cases in the last 7 days. The university has reported 152 cases in total this semester, 82 of which were considered active as of Tuesday morning, according to its dashboard.

Other local colleges and universities, including Dillard University, Xavier University of Louisiana and the University of New Orleans, have not reported an increase in cases, though their respective dashboards have not been updated since early December.

Aubri Juhasz covers K-12 education, focusing on charter schools, education funding, and other statewide issues. She also helps edit the station’s news coverage.

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