Cornell Takes 'Dispiriting' Steps After Finding Omicron Cases

UK expects 'quite staggering' case numbers
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 15, 2021 12:55 PM CST
Cornell Shuts Down Campus Over Omicron Outbreak
Scientists at the Africa Health Research Institute in Durban, South Africa, are researching the omicron variant.   (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

(Newser) – Cornell University says it is taking steps to protect students and the wider community after a COVID surge that appears to include a "very high percentage" of cases of the omicron variant. The main campus in Ithaca, NY, is being shut down, final exams have been shifted online, and a Dec. 18 graduation ceremony has been canceled, CNN reports. University officials say 903 COVID cases were detected between Dec. 7 and Dec. 13—and "virtually every" omicron case was found in double-vaccinated students, some of who had received a booster shot. Students leaving campus for the holidays have been advised to take a COVID test at their destination and self-quarantine until they get the result.

In a letter to the campus community, university president Martha E. Pollack said it was "extremely dispiriting" to have to move to "Alert Level Red," the New York Times reports. Some 97% of people on campus are vaccinated, and there have been no cases of severe illness among infected students. But since omicron appears to be much more transmissible than other variants, it's important to take steps to avoid exponential growth, Pollack explained. Princeton University announced Wednesday that it is also shifting final exams online and canceling gatherings after a surge in COVID cases, NBC New York reports.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned Tuesday that omicron is "spreading at a rate we have not seen with any previous variant" and threatening to overwhelm health systems, the BBC reports. In Britain, a record 78,610 new COVID cases were reported Wednesday as new restrictions came into force, per NBC. Hours before the figure was released, Jenny Harries, head of the UK Health Security Agency, warned that the country would see "quite staggering" case numbers in the days ahead. (In the US, officials say "everything points to a large wave.")

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