With Omicron, G.U. Cancels Events, Moves Finals Online


On Monday Dec. 13, DC Health announced the first four confirmed cases of the Omicron variant in the District of Columbia. One was reported to be at Georgetown University — “a community member who has not been on campus since before Thanksgiving other than to complete a Covid-19 test,” the announcement stated. The undergraduate had returned from a domestic trip, had been found to carry the Omicron variant even though s/he was vaccinated and was asymptomatic. There is no indication that transmission occurred on our campus.”

But two days later on Dec. 15, Georgetown University announced it would be canceling all university-sponsored in-person events effective immediately. All finals left to be taken during finals week were ordered to be done virtually unless the “Main Campus Faculty chose to organize a large room with social distancing.” The university’s announcement continued: “Study spaces would revert immediately to 6-foot physical distancing between persons. No eating or drinking [would be] allowed in communal areas, including libraries and study spaces. Masks are to be worn at all times indoors.”

The orders at Georgetown were closely followed by restrictions at George Washington and Howard Universities in the District. Sixteen Howard “community members” had tested positive for the virus on Tuesday and two at GWU for the variant.

The restrictions quickly followed those at other prominent east coast colleges including Cornell University where more than 97 percent of all student, faculty and staff are vaccinated. Two “not serious” cases of the Omicron variant had been confirmed at the campus but the potential of a rapid rise in cases led the campus president to raise the alert level, move finals online and cancel events.

At Vassar College, campus officials announced that chairs and tables from indoor dining areas were being removed and students were being encouraged to eat alone or with their roommates. “We have not found Omicron cases but are expecting it, as everybody who is alive today is expecting it,” the college president was quoted by The Washington Post as saying.

The impact may not be heavily felt since most colleges and schools are nearing the end of their fall terms and will be closed until early January. Then it is expected that booster shots as well as double vaccinations will be required of all campus students, staff and faculty as well as wearing masks indoors.

One D.C. public elementary school was closed to in-person classes on Wednesday. Whittier Elementary School had experienced several positive cases and had sent classes home for quarantine. “We want our families to know we are committed to safe operations,” said DC Public Schools Chancellor Lewis D. Ferebee.

While the Omicron variant has proved to be highly transmissible, it “typically produces milder symptoms and can be slowed by the vaccines,” according to disease analysis to date. It causes few hospitalizations and no one has been confirmed to have died of the variant to date in the country. Most experts agreed that the best protection remains to get vaccinated, get a booster shot and follow all public health measures, including wearing a mask and avoiding large crowds.

Still Georgetown University community members were asked to be on the lookout. “If you observed an individual or group whom you suspect is not acting in accordance with established health and safety protocols, you can report these incidents through the COVID-19 Incident Report Form,” the university website urged.

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