Howard University delays spring semester start date due to spike in COVID-19 cases

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Administrators at Howard University have postponed the start of the school’s spring semester due to a rapid rise in COVID-19 cases on campus and in the surrounding community.

The Washington D.C.-based HBCU announced Monday that in-person classes for undergraduate and graduate students will begin on Jan. 18 instead of Jan. 3.

An electronic signboard welcomes people to the Howard University campus in Washington D.C. on July 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

The number of COVID-19 cases in Washington D.C. has skyrocketed 987% over the last two weeks, according to NBC Washington.

“We are continuing to monitor the surge in COVID-19 cases locally and throughout the region,” Howard’s Provost & Chief Academic Officer Anthony K. Wutoh said in a statement on Monday.

Wutoh said the omicron variant, which spreads more easily than previous versions of COVID-19, has contributed to the rise in cases at the university.

The COVID-19 positivity rate for students at Howard rose from 2.15% on Dec. 3 to 35% on Dec. 17, according to the school. The university’s overall positivity rate surged from 1.45% to a record high of 19% during the same span.

“At that rate, we would not have enough beds to quarantine positive students living in the residence halls, if students returned on the originally scheduled start date for the spring semester,” Wutoh said.

Students walking on the campus of Howard University
Students are seen walking on the campus of Howard University in Washington D.C. in this undated photo. (Photo: Jessica Floyd)

Howard is also requiring all eligible students, faculty and staff to get a COVID-19 booster shot by Monday, Jan. 31.

The school said those who haven’t received a booster yet can get one on campus without an appointment on the first floor of Freedmen’s Hall between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Students living in Howard campus residence halls are allowed to begin returning on Jan. 14. Administrators will host a virtual town hall to answer related questions sometime before the semester starts. The date and time of the town hall have yet to be announced.

“These steps will help us maintain as safe an environment as possible in order to provide the best educational experience to our students,” Wutoh said.

Howard is one of the latest major universities to delay in-person classes this month.

Seven University of California campuses and two University of Illinois schools are starting their spring semesters with remote learning, according to The Hill.

UC Irvine, UCLA, UC Santa Barbara, UC Riverside, UC San Diego and UC Santa Cruz are beginning their spring semester next month with two weeks of remote learning. UC Davis announced plans to do one week of virtual learning before resuming in-person classes on Jan. 10.

More than 99% of students at Middlebury College in Vermont have been vaccinated, but the school’s administrators still canceled in-person classes on Dec. 9 and chose virtual learning options in response to a rise in local COVID-19 cases.

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