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As omicron surges, Tulane pushes spring semester back a week for undergraduates

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Albert Herring
/
Tulane Public Relations

Tulane University undergraduates will start the spring semester a week later than planned, officials announced Thursday citing the national surge in COVID-19 cases driven by the omicron variant.

“As we confront a changing health situation and a new variant, we are implementing this one week delay to ensure we have appropriate health precautions in place for when we bring undergraduate students back,” an email sent to students and faculty said.

The first day of undergraduate classes, originally scheduled for Jan. 18, will now be Jan. 25 and the university’s move-in and Greek life schedules will also be pushed back a week.

Residential advisors and more than 3,000 students either running or rushing fraternity and sorority recruitment had been set to return the first week of January.

Many colleges and universities across the country have announced similar changes to their spring plans and others are moving classes online temporarily instead.

Tulane is the only college or university in New Orleans to announce changes to its spring semester so far, though others are likely to do so if current case trends continue.

Cases climbed across New Orleans’ college campuses in the final weeks of the fall semester with Tulane, Loyola University of New Orleans, Xavier University of Louisiana and Dillard University each reporting a sharp spike.

The University of New Orleans, which doesn’t share its COVID data publicly, asked non-essential employees to work remotely starting Dec. 16, citing “a slight uptick in cases.”

Tulane performs some of the most extensive surveillance testing in the city and was tracking 736 active cases as of Tuesday, according to its dashboard.

Cases at Tulane began rising on Dec. 7, 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 that week, the university had been reporting just one or two new cases a day. By the week of Dec. 13, its average number of new daily cases was 128. In response, Tulane reinstated its indoor mask mandate and gave undergraduates the option to finish the semester remotely.

Tulane officials said the one week delay will give students additional time to comply with the university’s vaccine mandate, which requires them to be fully vaccinated and boosted as soon as they are eligible.

The delay will not impact the rest of the semester, including plans for Mardi Gras, spring break and graduation, officials said.

Students who live off-campus and have left the city for the break have been urged not to return before the week of Jan. 22 when campus dining and other student services resume.

The university is requiring that all students take a COVID test 48 to 72 hours before returning to campus and that they delay their return for at least 10 days if they test positive.

Once a student returns, they’ll have one week to get tested on campus. Just like in the fall semester, all students must also participate in regular surveillance testing.

Scientists expect the highly transmissible omicron variant to drive up COVID cases in the next few weeks, but believe the rate of severe illness and death will be lower than past surges. Most states have already reported a sharp increase in cases in the last few days.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the omicron variant accounted for more than 73% of cases nationwide and 84.6% of cases in Louisiana for the week ending Dec. 18.

Louisiana reported more than 2,800 new COVID cases Thursday, the majority of which were among younger age groups. Sixteen percent were under the age of 18, 28% were ages 18-29 and 20% were ages 30-39.

The majority of cases were reported in Region 1 which includes Orleans, Jefferson, St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes.

More than 300 people are currently hospitalized with COVID across Louisiana. The state reported an additional 8 COVID deaths Thursday, bringing its total to 14,953.

New Orleans’ COVID threat level is at “active or imminent outbreak,” according to the city’s tracker and more than 550 new cases were reported Thursday.

The city’s 7-day average of daily new cases is 319 and its positive test rate is 3.7%.

More than 90% of adults living in New Orleans are partially vaccinated and 80% are fully vaccinated. Nearly 44% of children ages 5-17 have started their vaccine sequence and 31% have completed it.

New Orleans does not have a mask mandate currently in place, though health officials are strongly encouraging indoor mask wearing.

The city does have a vaccine mandate, which was recently expanded to include children as young as 5 years old starting in 2022.

Aubri Juhasz is the education reporter for New Orleans Public Radio. Before coming to New Orleans, she was a producer for National Public Radio’s All Things Considered. She helped lead the show's technology and book coverage and reported her own feature stories, including the surge in cycling deaths in New York City and the decision by some states to offer competitive video gaming to high school students as an extracurricular activity.

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