Taking a Step Back: US Colleges Return to Online Courses | Illinois News

By COLLIN Binkley, AP Educational Writer

As COVID-19 cases increase as students head home from winter vacation, dozens of colleges across the US are putting classes back online for at least the first week or so of the semester – and some are warning that it could spread for longer if the wave of infection doesn’t subside anytime soon.

Harvard is moving classes online for the first three weeks of the New Year, with a return to campus scheduled for late January, “conditions permitting.” The University of Chicago is delaying the start of its new term and is holding the first two weeks online. Others invite students to return to campus but start classes online, including Michigan State University.

Many colleges are hoping that an extra week or two will get them past the peak of the national peak caused by the highly contagious variant of omicron. Still, the surge throws uncertainty over a semester many had hoped to be the closest to normal since the start of the pandemic.

For some students, starting the term remotely is becoming routine – many colleges used the strategy last year amid a surge of cases. But some fear the latest change will extend well beyond a week or two.

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Jake Maynard, a student at George Washington University in the nation’s capital, said he feels good with a week of online classes, but beyond that he is hopeful officials will trust the booster injections and will offer a traditional university experience.

He’s already had a year of e-learning, which he says “didn’t work” and wasn’t what he expected from a school that charges over $ 50,000 a year.

“I’m a junior, but about half of my school experience has been online,” said Maynard, 20, of Ellicott City, Md. “You are losing so much of what makes school school.”

The university is urging students to return to campus from Monday, but classes will be held online until January 18 as authorities step up virus testing and isolate all infected students. The school has more than doubled its isolation space and brought forward three weeks to the deadline for a new vaccine booster requirement because of omicron.

“The omicron variant hit us at a terrible time, basically the last two weeks of the fall semester, which doesn’t leave us much time to prepare for spring,” said Dr Lynn Goldman, dean of the school. of George Washington’s Public Health Department.

The university was among many who saw infections soar in the days leading up to winter recess. The campus averaged more than 80 cases per day during finals week, compared to just a few per day for much of the fall. And although the most recent cases have been mild, almost all have involved students who had received at least two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.

As for the mid-January target date for resuming in-person learning, Goldman said officials “recognize that it may not be possible.”

So far, more than 70 colleges in 26 states are starting the term online, with more saying they are considering it. Many of those who move now use quarter systems that start earlier than those who have semesters.

Many of those moving online are in recent virus hotspots, including George Washington, Yale and Columbia on the East Coast, as well as Wayne State University in Detroit and Northwestern University near Chicago. The list also includes most of the University of California and Rice University campuses in Houston.

At the University of California at Riverside, students can return on Monday but face two weeks of online classes. They are also asked to sequester for five days while they undergo two rounds of virus tests.

It’s the first time since last spring that the school has been completely remote, but Chancellor Kim Wilcox said it was the best way to stop the virus from spreading after students return from vacation.

“We think it’s about rebuilding our bubble,” he said. “It gives us a chance to reset things and then hopefully get going. “

Some other colleges are delaying the new term without offering distance education. Syracuse University has postponed its semester for a week, citing projections that the first three weeks of January will be “the hardest of this surge.”

Others are moving forward with in-person learning, saying the health risks are low with the masks and booster shots.

At Northeastern University in Boston, one of the many schools requiring callbacks, students are returning as scheduled. Officials said the school is focusing on preventing all cases to avoid serious illness or hospitalization.

“As we enter this endemic phase of the pandemic, our job is to continue to effectively control COVID, not let COVID control us,” Ken Henderson, Chancellor and Senior Vice President of Learning, said in a post. at campus.

The move drew praise from Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, who said COVID-19 poses little risk to students, while “prolonged isolation is a very real risk to their growth and mental health.”

The University of Florida plans to return to in-person learning at the start of the semester, despite a faculty union request to teach remotely for the first three weeks.

Paul Ortiz, president of the campus section of the United Faculty of Florida, said older faculty members would be at greater risk, especially without a mask or vaccine warrant, which were banned by the GOP governor. Ron DeSantis.

“We don’t want our campus to become a super-broadcaster,” Ortiz said. “There’s just a lot of uncertainty right now, a lot of stress.”

In some colleges that start remotely, officials say they are determined to get back to class quickly.

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s 50,000-student campus plans to resume in-person classes after a week of online instruction. Students are encouraged to come back during this first week so they can take two tests for the virus, which will allow them to resume their activities in person if they are negative.

“Every semester we’ve had a spike when the students come back,” said university spokesperson Robin Kaler. “We want to make sure we’re on top of that so that we can crush it as quickly as possible.”

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