The requirements from New Jersey’s largest university are the latest among COVID-related mandates and delayed openings that the state’s higher education institutions are implementing amid a surge of the omicron variant and holiday-related positive cases.
“The data and the science surrounding the surge in COVID-19 cases, and the dramatic spread of the omicron variant, require that we adapt to the evolving situation without sacrificing our goal of returning to a campus experience that is robust, rewarding, and safe,” Antonio Calcado, Rutgers’ executive vice president and chief operating officer, said in a Rutgers-wide letter on Jan. 4.
Total hospitalizations from COVID-19 have risen beyond the winter wave from a year ago, with 5,155 COVID-19 patients as of Jan. 3–the highest since May 2021. At the outset of the pandemic, New Jersey’s 71 hospitals saw more than 8,000 patients in April 2020. This year, state health officials anticipate a mid-January peak of between 6,000 and 9,000 patients.
Daily cases in the latter half of December shattered records from day to day, with nearly 21,000 cases logged as of Jan. 3, and in several instances nearly 30,000 daily cases.
Calcado said the new restrictions are meant to “manage the impact of this virus” at Rutgers. The university plans to reopen the campus to in-person operations on Jan. 31, which includes dining centers and classes. Remote learning for the spring semester will remain in place until Jan. 30. Rutgers initially planned to reopen its campus on Jan. 16 and Jan. 17.
Any eligible students – those who got their second Moderna or Pfizer shot at least six months ago or their single Johnson & Johnson shot at least two months ago – have until then to get the booster and upload their proof on the university’s online vaccine portal.
Students currently residing on campus are “strongly encouraged” to upload that data by Jan. 15, Calcado added. The announcement does not indicate accommodations for students who do not get the vaccine or abide by the testing and vaccine requirements, but notes that there are religious and medical exemptions.
Attendees for any on-campus events, such as athletics, need to produce a negative test result from within the past 72 hours, or proof of full vaccination. University employees will also have to get the booster, but Calcado did not disclose a deadline in the letter.
According to state health data, more than 6.2 million people in New Jersey are fully vaccinated, while nearly 2.3 million boosters and third doses have been administered in the state. Most hospitalized patients are not vaccinated, but the omicron variant can infect vaccinated individuals with minor symptoms.
In addition to Rutgers, other major New Jersey universities have enacted their own sweeping restrictions and short-term closures.
Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken is also requiring its students to get the booster shot. Felician and Kean universities, as well as the New Jersey Institute of Technology, are beginning their semesters remotely, while Princeton University is staggering its campus reopening for the spring semester later this month.
Students at the Ivy League school in Central Jersey have to register for a return date and get a negative test as soon as they arrive. And they’re bound to travel restrictions that will keep them close to the Princeton University campus, barring them from leaving Mercer County or the nearby Plainsboro campus in Middlesex County “except in extraordinary circumstances.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]
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