NU admin has no plans to implement further mitigation measures as omicron subvariant cases rise


Seeger Gray/The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern does not plan to implement any further mitigation measures for the COVID-19 pandemic, University spokesperson Jon Yates told The Daily.

Angeli Mittal, Creative Director

After last week’s uptick in cases — reaching the second-highest reported positivity rate of the pandemic — Northwestern does not intend to make changes to testing or masking requirements, University spokesperson Jon Yates told The Daily Tuesday.

Yates said Quarantine and Isolation Housing continues to be “well under” capacity, though he noted more students have been placed in 1835 Hinman recently. Residents of 710 Emerson received an email Wednesday asking students to refrain from holding guests until Monday. Those experiencing symptoms are asked to obtain in-person COVID-19 testing.

Students living in Chapin and Sargent Halls received a similar email last week. However, while students in East Fairchild were also notified last week about local outbreaks, they were not asked to refrain from hosting guests or seek testing. The University has not made any public announcements about what determines these differences in guidance.

“At this time, we do not plan any changes to our masking or testing requirements, or other targeted mitigation strategies, but remain flexible to enact measures if necessary,” Yates wrote in the email.

Without any Universitywide communication on metrics for establishing further mitigations, the case or positivity rate threshold for when these will become “necessary” is unknown.

Instead, while campus positivity continues to incline, further mitigation efforts are being lifted. Masks will no longer be required on Safe Rides, the program announced Wednesday. The team said it made this decision in alignment with the federal transportation mask mandate lift announced Monday.

University COVID-19 isolation policy inconsistencies

The University continues to cite guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention when enacting NU COVID-19 policy despite inconsistencies with national guidelines. Students with symptoms who test positive for COVID-19 are currently required to isolate for at least five days following a positive test result. But the CDC says the five-day isolation period starts following the first day of symptoms.

Those with resolving symptoms and without fever after five full days can end their isolation while continuing to wear a mask for five additional days, per CDC guidance. The University, on the other hand, requires students to receive a negative test result on the fifth day in order to be eligible for early release. This policy only applies to students who are completely asymptomatic.

Sequencing efforts

The original omicron variant BA.1 accounts for approximately 6% of new cases, the CDC reports. The original omicron variant generated peaks in early January and was responsible for some of the highest positivity rates seen on campus. 

Omicron’s more infectious subvariant BA.2 has taken over as the most dominant strain of COVID-19, accounting for almost 75% of new positive cases. A new sublineage of this strain, BA.2.12.1, is quickly becoming more dominant and comprises 19% of new cases in the U.S.

Northwestern’s Center for Pathogen Genomics and Microbial Evolution published COVID-19 sequencing data through March 26, suggesting BA.2 dominates 75% of samples from the Chicago area. While delta and the original omicron cases are still prevalent locally, their numbers are rapidly dwindling as subvariant cases continue to rise. 

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @amittal27

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