Omicron Variant Alters Plans for Spring Semester

The Omicron variant of COVID-19 quickly spread to become the dominant variant of the virus both in the U.S. and around the world, and COVID-19 case numbers rose dramatically in the U.S. in January 2022.

            In response, Saint Louis University officials have imposed new restrictions and other changes for the spring semester, hoping to limit the virus’s transmission. Some prior restrictions still remain in place, while others have gone away following new data. Here’s what has changed at SLU.

        One major change this semester is the cancellation of “internal events” until Jan. 31 and “external events” until March 1. SLU defines internal events as those where fewer than ten percent of attendants are guests and external events being greater than ten percent guests. For external events, guests were already required to show proof of vaccination or a negative test result within 72 hours of coming on campus. 

      The restriction excludes events being held at Chaifetz Arena, such as basketball games, as the stadium is under the separate guidance of both the city and the CDC, the school said. Also excluded are “integral” events, which include enrollment activities and those related to the university’s accreditation. Departments or student organizations wishing to host events they believe are integral must submit a request to the Designated Event Review committee. The internal event restriction may be extended past Jan. 31 if the university does not believe the vaccine booster shot requirement is being met at that time.

     Groups of people meeting together, whether informally or for an activity, are still allowed without restrictions such as social distancing. As before, face masks are required indoors except when eating. Employee meetings may also continue in person, but virtual meetings are now encouraged, the school said.

     As for COVID-19 vaccine booster, unlike neighboring Washigton University in St. Louis, doses will be required for students and SLUCare employees by Jan. 31, and by Feb. 28 for all other staff. An online portal originally opened at the beginning of the fall semester has since been reopened to submit proof of vaccination or an exemption request. The vaccine requirement is also in place for contracted employees, such as those working in food service, security, or construction.

          Students or employees who have received prior COVID-19 vaccines but wish to receive a medical or religious exemption from the booster shot specifically are required to apply for an exemption by those same dates. Those who have already been approved for exemptions by the university for previous doses do not need to apply again.

         Causes for a medical exemption include an allergic reaction to the vaccine or its components. The university said it will not exempt students and employees from the vaccine requirement based on prior COVID-19 infection, and will not grant religious exemptions to Catholics over concerns about fetal cell lines, following a December 2020 decision by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

        Until further notice, only those affiliated with the university, such as students and employees, will be allowed in residence halls. Students staying in residence halls are still allowed to have other students stay overnight with them under the updated policy.

         While masks are still required inside university buildings, as they were during the fall semester, the university will not require N95 or KN95 face masks except in specific clinical settings where local policy takes precedent.

        In classrooms, seating charts were previously used for contact tracing, but the university has determined they will no longer collect seating charts from instructors. According to provost Mike Lewis, only one case of transmission out of about 1,100 was traced to a SLU classroom, and it remains possible that transmission occurred elsewhere.

          The Simon Recreation Center is holding vaccination clinics open to all members of the public on Tuesdays and Thursdays for the remainder of January and throughout February.

      Vaccines are available either by appointment or by walk-in. Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines will be offered. The Pfizer vaccine will be available from 10 a.m. to noon and the Moderna vaccine from noon to 2 p.m. 

          And as a final layer of protection, beginning Jan. 23, the university is conducting surveillance testing using a random 10 percent sample of on-campus students, a measure the school most recently took during the spring 2021 semester. Students selected to be randomly tested will be notified by email and given instructions to report at the Simon Recreation Center. Testing is required for those who are randomly selected.