Jan 18, 2022 - News

University of Minnesota students return to campus amid Omicron surge

goldy with a mask

Photo: Glen Stubbe/Star Tribune via Getty Images

University of Minnesota students return to campus β€” and classrooms β€” Tuesday amid spiking COVID-19 case counts.

Why it matters: The start of the semester brings tens of thousands of students, faculty and staff to the Dinkytown and East Bank neighborhoods.

Yes, but: Colleges have been seen as incubators of COVID-19 throughout the pandemic, and some are worried that the start of the semester will fuel even more outbreaks as Omicron spreads.

  • Last week, as students trickled back to campus, the weekly positivity rate for tests taken at the U spiked to 23%.

The big picture: Some colleges and universities elsewhere have delayed the semester or temporarily switched to online classes due to the recent surge.

What they're saying: President Joan Gabel wrote in a Jan. 5 email that the high rate of vaccination among students and staff, along with other mitigation measures, "will allow us to continue safe operations."

  • University leaders are pointing students to expanded resources for booster shots, tests and free high-quality masks.
  • A vaccination mandate and indoor mask requirements for community spaces remain in effect.

The response: Some faculty and staff are calling for a more aggressive approach, including all online classes to start.

  • Sophomore Carter Yost, who serves in student government, said members will also lobby for enhanced support services for those who fall ill.
  • "If I get COVID or a friend gets COVID, I don't know what the support systems at a school I pay tens of thousands of dollars to be at are. That is justifiably disappointing," Yost said, noting that the U's isolation and quarantine housing is limited to students living on campus.

What to watch: A quick rise in cases could amp up pressure to temporarily switch to all online classes.

The bottom line: Given that most students (and staff) live off campus, the U's COVID situation could have a ripple effect.

  • "The reality is we are not an island," Cherrene Horazuk, president of the U clerical workers' union AFSCME Local 3800, told Axios. "Everyone who works and teaches at the university goes home to their communities."
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