COVID-19 in higher education: How Stanford’s omicron response compares to peer institutions
The omicron variant has catalyzed a resurgence of COVID-19 in higher education institutions with thousands of cases emerging on college campuses across the country in recent days. The growing number of cases has prompted Stanford and its counterpart institutions to implement precautions to ensure the health and safety of their campus communities. Stanford announced Thursday that the first two weeks of teaching in the winter term will take place online and that booster injections will be required for eligible students by the end of January.
But what has been Stanford’s response to the increase in cases and the omicron variant compared to other colleges and universities? The Daily looked at five peer institutions – the University of California at Berkeley, Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Cornell to compare recent rates of COVID-19 cases and the differences in the health policies implemented by each college.
With six colleges returning to in-person teaching this year, they have each implemented various COVID-19 testing protocols and activity restrictions. As cases nationwide rise again, individual university policies are being tested and their post-winter break teaching proposals scrutinized. Here’s how each university handles COVID-19 on campus:
Cornell had by far the highest total number of cases among the six universities. More recently, a spike of 872 new cases reported on Dec. 13 pushed Cornell to Red Alert level. Prior to the recent spike, Cornell implemented moderate COVID-19 policies during the fall term: vaccinated students did not have to wear masks outside or practice social distancing.
Following the recent outbreak, Cornell announced a number of immediate measures, such as moving all final exams to an online format, shutting down libraries and fitness centers, and canceling most events on the campus. Last week, Cornell reported 1,282 cases of active students – a positivity rate of 7.39% for the week. While Cornell has clearly outperformed the other five colleges in positive cases, its plans for the winter term remain unchanged at the time of publication. The university is still not requiring members of its community to receive a vaccine booster and has not made any announcements regarding changes to its plans for the spring semester.
University of California, Berkeley
UC Berkeley did not experience rapid fluctuations in the number of cases during the school year, as the number of students testing positive has remained relatively stable. Similar to the other five schools, UC Berkeley saw an increase in the number of cases at the start of the term, registering 84 positive cases on August 30 compared to 28 cases on August 18, which marked the start of the fall semester. The higher number of cases at UC Berkeley could be the result of less stringent COVID-19 testing requirements compared to other schools. For vaccinated students, faculty, and staff, surveillance testing is not required for 180 days from the date they are fully vaccinated, and after that, they only need to test all month.
Despite the threat the omicron variant may pose, UC Berkeley on Dec. 16 reaffirmed its intention to move forward with fully in-person classes for the spring semester.
Stanford had a relatively stable number of cases throughout the fall quarter with small spikes during the move-in period in late September and the return of the Thanksgiving break. The University has demanded that all students be vaccinated except for students with approved religious and medical exemptions. Vaccinated students were tested weekly while unvaccinated students had to be tested twice a week. The fall term began with a period of limited activity, but limits on gatherings and events were lifted as the term progressed.
Amid the growing number of cases, Stanford officials announced on Thursday that the first two weeks of teaching winter courses will be conducted entirely online and that booster injections will be required for eligible students by the end. January. During the weeks of November 29 and December 6, Stanford reported 30 and 27 student cases, respectively.
The number of positive student cases on the Princeton campus was relatively low and stable during the school’s fall term. Although there was a spike of 84 new cases during the week of November 29, the number of positive tests plummeted in the following weeks. During the fall term, Princeton implemented relatively relaxed policies, where unvaccinated students are not required to practice social distancing. Princeton announced on December 16 that it would move all final exams online as a precaution. The winter term will still be in person, but the university has mandated booster shots for its students during the upcoming spring term.
Harvard had a relatively low number of cases throughout the start of the academic year, except for two major increases. On September 30, the University reported a peak at 135 new cases of COVID-19. The latest breakout came amid an increase in cases nationwide and new concerns about the omicron variant – on December 6, Harvard reported 138 new cases.
After operating in person throughout the current academic year, Harvard announced on Saturday that it will move to remote operations for the first three weeks of January. Students are not expected to return to campus until the start of their spring semester on January 24 after the break has expired. The announcement comes just days after the University made booster shots mandatory for returning students.
After registering its highest number of positive COVID-19 cases in a single day, Yale officials have moved all remaining final exams online and urged students to take essential items home. While classes for the spring semester will begin Jan. 18 in person, school administrators haven’t ruled out starting the semester with online instruction. Yale also announced that it will require a recall for all eligible students before the start of the spring semester, and said it expects faculty and staff to receive the recall as soon as they are eligible.
At the start of the fall semester, the university did not require that vaccinated undergraduates living on campus be quarantined upon arrival and maintained a weekly testing requirement throughout the semester. Yale experienced the second largest peak in COVID-19 on campus among six institutions since the omicron variant began to spread, with the school registering more than 200 positive cases in early December.