US colleges reinstate mask mandates and other measures as COVID cases rise

The final weeks of the college school year have again been disrupted by COVID-19 as universities reinstate mask mandates, move to online classes and reduce large gatherings in response to rising coronavirus infections.

Colleges in Washington, DC, New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Texas have reimposed a series of virus measures, with Howard University switching to remote learning amid rising cases in the nation’s capital .

This is the third straight college year that has been disrupted by COVID-19, meaning future seniors have yet to experience a normal college year.

“I feel like last summer everyone was like, ‘Oh, this is it. We’re nearing the end,'” recalled Nina Heller, a student at American University in Washington DC, where administrators brought back a mask mandate about a month after lifting it.” And then it didn’t quite happen, and now we’re here again in the summer, and there’s no end .”

Warrants were largely dropped in the wake of spring break as case numbers plummeted following a winter surge fueled by the omicron variant. But several cities in the Northeast have seen an increase in cases and hospitalizations in recent weeks, as the BA.2 subvariant of the omicron variant continues to spread rapidly in the United States.

“While we’d like to move on and think the pandemic is over, and I think we’d all like that to happen at this point, that’s wishful thinking,” said Task Co-Chair Anita Barkin. COVID-19. strength for the American College Health Association. “The pandemic is still with us.”

New Jersey on Friday reported eight new deaths from COVID-19 statewide and 2,321 new confirmed positive tests, with confirmed cases remaining in the 2,000s for the second day in a row.

The state’s seven-day average for confirmed cases was 1,701 on Friday, up 2% from a week ago and 139% from a month ago.

As of Thursday evening, there were 444 patients with confirmed or suspected coronavirus cases at the state’s 71 hospitals.

COVID-19 had eased so much at Williams College that the private liberal arts school in Massachusetts allowed professors to decide whether or not to require masks in their classes early last week. But a few days later, as cases increased, it reinstated an indoor mask mandate, which was even stricter than what had been in place before.

“I think students really feel like people they know are dropping like flies,” said junior Kitt Urdang, who has had half a dozen friends test positive in recent days. “There has certainly been a lot more uncertainty than there has been on campus since COVID happened.”

Philadelphia recently brought back its mask mandate, leading the University of Pennsylvania and Temple University to require them again starting Monday. Although the city ended the term on Thursday, the colleges made no changes.

In Washington, DC, Howard University’s main campus, affectionately known as “The Hilltop” by students and alumni, was largely quiet this week, with many students taking classes and exams from home. The school year is coming to a muted end as rising virus numbers have prompted administrators to abruptly return to online education.

The city’s COVID infection rate more than doubled in April. Besides the United States, Georgetown and George Washington University have also reinstated their indoor mask mandates. But Howard is the only one to have walked away from teaching in person. The spring semester ends on Friday, with final exams for most students beginning next week. The administrators have promised an update on what this means for the opening ceremony on May 7.

“I don’t think people are very upset about wearing masks,” said Lia DeGroot, a George Washington senior who never threw away her mask during the one week the mandate was lifted at her school. “Of all the things the pandemic has disrupted, I think wearing masks is, you know, a relatively small thing to do. I think that’s kind of the mindset that a lot of students have.

In nearby Baltimore, Maryland, Johns Hopkins University announced this month that it was testing all undergraduate students twice a week until Friday, noting a sharp rise in cases. The school also said masks would be needed not just in classrooms, but in places like residence common areas.

In Houston, Rice University announced earlier this month that students should resume wearing masks in classrooms, citing an increase in cases on campus. Major university parties have also been cancelled.

New Mexico State University took a different approach, announcing Monday that all students on campus must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by July 1, ending the ability to submit weekly tests. as an alternative.

One of the few counties still identified by the CDC as having high spread is home to Syracuse University in New York, which announced Monday it will again require masks in classrooms.

J. Michael Haynie, the school’s vice chancellor for strategic initiatives and innovation, said in a letter that “it is important that we take reasonable steps to minimize the impact of COVID infections,” the finale and the start fast approaching.

The University of Rochester in upstate New York, the University of Connecticut, Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, and Columbia University in New York have taken a similar approach. Many, like Columbia, have noted that their surveillance testing programs are finding more cases.

While many students were eager to mask up, grunts emerged.

“We’re at the point where we’re tired of the masks,” said Neeraj Sudhakar, a Columbia graduate student studying financial engineering. “We probably have a 99% vaccination rate, so at this point I think we just need to move on with the pandemic and treat it as endemic rather than go back to what we were doing for the last two years.”

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NJ Advance Media writer Deion Johnson contributed to this report.