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Some colleges and universities will start the new year online as omicron spreads

Students walk on the campus of University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) in Los Angeles, California on March 11, 2020.
AFP via Getty Images
Students walk on the campus of University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) in Los Angeles, California on March 11, 2020.

School's out for the holidays, and some colleges will start the new year remote due to the threat posed by the omicron variant.

At least seven campuses of the University of California system will begin the next semester with distance learning and intend to use that time to ramp up their testing capacity.

"The emergence of this new and fast-moving variant, coupled with student travel to and from campus and the prevalence of gatherings over the holidays, will present our campuses with a unique set of public health challenges as we begin the New Year," University of California president Michael V. Drake wrote in a letter to UC chancellors.

Other colleges and universities are taking similar precautions to ensure students returning to campus don't unintentionally bring COVID-19 back with them.

Stanford University will hold classes online for the first two weeks of its winter quarter, and it's urging students to get boosters and receive a negative test result before returning to campus.

Other institutions moving classes online to start the new year include Harvard University, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and Kean University, among many others.

Scientists believe the highly transmissible omicron variant will produce a massive spike in infections in the coming weeks but is also likely to have lower rates of severe illness and deaths.

Some schools, such as Northwestern University and Oberlin College, will require students to have a booster shot by early next year as long as they are eligible. Booster shots have been shown to be effective against omicron.

The Biden administration previously said K-12 schools could limit quarantines by testing unvaccinated children who were in close contact with someone who had COVID-19 rather than making them stay home for 14 days, a practice known as "test to stay."

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Joe Hernandez
[Copyright 2024 NPR]