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COVID-19 again upending college life as campuses shut down

White House urges boosters to combat Omicron
White House urges boosters to combat Omicron 03:15

The resurgent coronavirus is again disrupting a growing number of U.S. colleges, stopping in-person classes, halting sports events and otherwise inhibiting campus life.

Multiple schools around the country this week have abruptly announced that students would finish their semesters remotely, given alarming COVID-19 positivity rates within their communities. Although many students were invited back to campuses in the fall, the Omicron variant is sending them home early.

On Wednesday, New York University announced that a "considerable acceleration" in new COVID-19 cases in the area would effectively shutter its campus before winter break begins on December 22. The surge is taking place despite 99% of NYU's in-person students and full-time faculty members being vaccinated.  

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School leaders immediately cancelled all nonessential gatherings, including parties, sporting events, club meetings and more. Common spaces in dorms, as well as athletic facilities for both students and faculty, are also off limits, while study groups are barred from meeting in person. 

"Study groups should plan to meet remotely rather than in person," NYU said in a memo. While the school's dining facilities remain open, students are encouraged to either eat outdoors or take their meals to-go.

"This is not quite how we expected to end the semester; however, if there is any consistency to the coronavirus, it is its unpredictability," the school said. 

NYU leaders added that they expect to invite faculty and students back to campus for the spring semester contingent on health guidance. 

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NYU's move comes after Princeton University, in Princeton, New Jersey, on Tuesday announced that all final exams would be administered remotely. The Ivy League institution has seen an uptick in COVID-19 infections among undergraduates over the previous 24 hours, including suspected Omicron cases.

The state of New Jersey requires individuals who test positive to self-isolate for 10 days, whether or not they show symptoms. Princeton said it does not want its students "remaining on campus in required isolation through the holidays."

Additionally, Princeton Dean Jill Dolan and vice president of campus life Rochelle Calhoun said that any indoor gatherings involving food and where face coverings can not be worn, such as singing performances, must be cancelled or postponed. A decision around what form the spring semester will take will be made before January 7, the school said. 

Princeton also plans on implementing a booster mandate for all community members who qualify. 

"Extremely dispiriting" 

Cornell University, in Ithaca, New York, where 97% of the on-campus population is vaccinated, on Tuesday also canceled all campus activities and moved final exams online after more than 400 students tested positive for COVID-19 over a 48-hour period.

Cornel President Martha Pollack noted that a "significant" number of the cases indicated the Omicron variant.

"It is obviously extremely dispiriting to have to take these steps," Pollack said in a letter addressed to Ithaca community members. "However, since the start of the pandemic, our commitment has been to follow the science and do all we can to protect the health of our faculty, staff and students."

Last week, Middlebury College in Vermont also moved to remote instruction for the remainder of the winter amid a similar surge in COVID-19 cases. The University of Pennsylvania has banned all indoor, end-of-the-year social events. 

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