GW will start the spring with remote classes for at least the first week of the semester as officials look to curb the rapid spread of the Omicron variant.
Officials said in an email to the University community Wednesday that students can return to campus after winter break as classes begin online and they expect full in-person operations to resume on Jan. 18. Officials will move up the deadline for GW community members to receive a COVID-19 booster shot to Jan. 10 instead of Feb. 1, three weeks earlier than the initial deadline, according to the email.
University facilities, including libraries and laboratories, will reopen after winter break as classes begin online.
“These decisions were made with our foremost priority of safety in mind and were based on the unprecedented rapid rise in cases and the unknown information about the severity of the Omicron variant,” officials said in the email. “We believe that our vaccine and booster mandate, indoor mask requirement and routine COVID-19 testing and contact tracing programs will help our community stay healthy and protected.”
Officials said incoming interim University President Mark Wrighton was involved in the discussions and supports the plan to begin the semester remotely.
Administrators recorded a spike in COVID-19 cases at the end of the fall semester after identifying the Omicron variant among multiple GW community members. The University’s caseload reached a record high of 141 positive results on Monday – the most positive tests in a single day during the pandemic.
Officials canceled in-person gatherings last week and moved the end of fall exams online in response to the spike.
Administrators are requiring the University community – including students, faculty and staff – to receive a booster shot by Jan. 10.
Public health officials have said the additional shot is the most effective way to prevent severe disease from the Omicron variant, which they are finding to be more contagious but cause milder illness than previous variants based on preliminary data.
COVID-19 cases have been rising in the District since Omicron was first confirmed in the region, with D.C. repeatedly setting new records for daily cases. Mayor Muriel Bowser reinstated an indoor mask mandate this week in response to the spike and will start requiring proof of vaccination at certain indoor settings next month, including restaurants, bars, gyms and entertainment venues.
GW’s positivity rate had generally remained below 1% throughout the fall semester except for brief upticks and the end-of-semester spike.
Omicron cases now make up about three-quarters of COVID-19 cases nationwide, according to the latest models from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The United States reached a milestone of 800,000 deaths from COVID-19 earlier in December.