COVID-19 surge forces NYU to cancel events, recommend online testing format

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New York University (NYU) announced Wednesday that it would take action in response to what it said was a “considerable acceleration in the rate of new [COVID-19] cases” in its community. 

In a letter to the NYU community, provost Katherine Fleming, executive vice president Martin Dorph and COVID-19 Prevention & Response Team executive lead Dr. Carlo Ciotoli said the news was a cause for concern, not alarm, as well as a prompt for “appropriate actions.” 

“Our foremost priority is the health and well-being of NYU community members. With that as a foundation and guide, our academic priority is to ensure that the academic progress of our students is maintained and crucial end of semester assessments (examinations, papers, etc.) can be smoothly and successfully completed,” they wrote. 

The group “strongly [encouraged]” that final examinations and assessments be changed to a remote and online format, giving faculty a deadline of Wednesday at 5 p.m. ET to notify students of their plans.

“Only those assessments that are fundamentally unsuited to being conducted remotely (i.e. those that have a crucial in-person component) should proceed in person; in these cases, faculty should let their department chair and dean’s office know that they plan to conduct their exams in person,” they advised. 

Additionally, the university leaders instructed that “all discretionary, non-essential, non-academic gatherings and events are to be canceled immediately.”

“This includes events, club meetings, get-togethers for the holidays, celebrations, and athletic events, among other gatherings, both on-campus and off-campus, for students, faculty and other employees. We are temporarily suspending the use of residence hall lounges and common/meeting spaces. In addition, we are temporarily suspending use of the athletic and recreational facilities,” they said. 

While offices are to remain open and staffed in-person as necessary to support the end-of-semester academic needs of both students and faculty and essential employees continue to be required to report for regular work assignments, NYU also strongly urged people to eat outside while the weather remains “a bit milder,” “grab and go,” keep a mask on if eating indoors, limit meals to a time period of 15 minutes and try to maintain physical distancing of at least six feet.

The school also advised that the community consider getting a COVID-19 test regardless of whether or not they are traveling for the holidays.

“This is not quite how we expected to end the semester; however, if there is any consistency to the coronavirus, it is its unpredictability,” Fleming, Dorph and Ciotoli noted. “We take these steps, as we said earlier, out of an abundance of caution. By proceeding in this way, we can better safeguard the health and well-being of the NYU community but still fulfill our academic responsibilities.”

NYU said it would continue to carefully monitor public health guidance, COVID-19 rates and severity in New York City and data from the university’s own testing. 

Student Marina Agranow looks over papers in Washington Square Park adjacent to the New York University campus in New York, Tuesday, March 21, 2006. 
(Jennifer S. Altman/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

However, the school said it anticipates “proceeding in the spring semester as [it] did in the fall.”

NYU was not the only major university to act after COVID-19 spikes. 

Earlier this week, New York’s Cornell University and New Jersey’s Princeton University shifted to remote formats over concerns regarding the omicron variant of the coronavirus. Princeton mandated that all eligible students, faculty and staff are required to get a booster shot by Jan. 31, 2022. 

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Wednesday that her agency projects the variant of concern could represent about 13% of all cases in the two states.

Scientists are currently working to understand omicron’s transmissibility, severity and ability to evade immune protection and vaccines.

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