Update on Omicron Variant and Delayed Start of Winter Quarter
To: Members of the University Community
From: Ka Yee C. Lee, Provost, and Katie Callow-Wright, Executive Vice President of the University and Chief of Staff in the Office of the President
Subject: Update on Omicron Variant and Delayed Start of Winter Quarter
Date: December 31, 2021
We greatly appreciate the dedication of everyone in the University community as we work to address this phase of the pandemic and limit the impact of the Omicron variant. We are writing today as a follow up to our December 23 message, where we shared news of a delayed start and remote learning period for the Winter Quarter due to COVID-19 and implications from the Omicron variant. As expected, COVID-19 is continuing to spread at a concerning rate, placing further strain on hospitals and public health resources. Plans are proceeding to begin the Winter Quarter remotely on January 10 for most schools and divisions, with in-person classes resuming on January 24. Additional details and answers to some common questions are below.
Impact of the Omicron Variant
At the University of Chicago Medicine, the spread of the Omicron variant, with some residual Delta infections, is placing unprecedented strain on ICU beds, COVID-19 testing capacity, and other crucial operations. This week, the medical center has had more COVID-19 in-patients than at any time during the pandemic, including a growing number of vaccine breakthrough cases. Many hospital employees have tested positive for COVID-19. COVID-19 figures nationwide, across Illinois and in Chicago also are at record levels and continue to increase. The daily average of COVID-19 cases in Illinois has now exceeded 16,000 for the first time, with the highest infection rate in Chicago.
Current projections are that we will pass the peak of this wave of infections before January 24, though we anticipate high levels of COVID-19 infection after that point as well. One important consideration in the University’s decision to delay the start of Winter Quarter is to avoid placing additional stress on the hospital’s capacity to provide care for all who need it. Another priority is to lessen the on-campus spread of the virus following possible exposures from travel and holiday celebrations, particularly New Year’s celebrations.
Dr. Emily Landon, Executive Medical Director for infection prevention and control at UChicago Medicine, has provided helpful answers to common medical questions relevant to the Omicron variant, as well as further information about booster shots. The topics covered include: when to get tested or consider an at-home test; steps to take if you can’t immediately access a COVID-19 test; and the importance of booster shots in light of the Omicron variant.
The full, revised Academic Calendar for the 2021-22 academic year is now posted online. Please note:
Although the start of Winter Quarter has been delayed by one week for most schools and divisions, and Spring Break will now begin on March 19 instead of March 12, the date of Convocation has not changed. Convocation is still scheduled for Saturday, June 4.
To start Spring Quarter one week later without changing the date of Convocation, the College will hold final exams for non-graduating students the week of May 30; graduating fourth years will complete their exams the preceding week. Students and families will receive further details on these plans soon.
We know some of the changes will bring difficulties and changes to previously scheduled travel plans. We will continue working to maximize in-person instruction while upholding the health and safety of our community and managing the challenges of the COVID-19 surge.
Revised COVID-19 Guidelines
On December 27 the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued significant changes to guidance for isolation and quarantine. The guidelines take into account current information about the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccination and booster shots – another reason why it is important for our community to comply with the University’s new booster shot requirement. The new CDC guidelines are reflected in the University’s revised exposure protocols. The changes include:
Individuals who test positive for COVID-19 must isolate for 5 days; if they have no symptoms after 5 days or symptoms are resolving, they can leave their home but must continue to wear a mask around others for 5 additional days.
Quarantine guidelines have been modified for people who have either 1) received a booster shot, or 2) have completed the primary series of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines within the last 6 months, or 3) have completed the Johnson & Johnson vaccine within the last 2 months. If an individual meets one of these conditions and has been exposed to someone with COVID-19, quarantine is not required but they must wear a mask around others for 10 days and get tested on day 5 after exposure if possible.
Quarantine for 5 days after exposure to someone with COVID-19 is still required for people who are unvaccinated, or who completed their primary vaccine series more than 6 months ago for the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or more than 2 months ago for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, and have not received booster shots. These individuals must get tested on day 5 after exposure if possible, and wear masks around others for an additional 5 days.
Anyone who develops symptoms of COVID-19, including mild symptoms ranging from sniffles to congestion or a cough, should isolate and get tested if possible.
COVID-19 Testing on Campus
We are temporarily expanding the campus COVID-19 testing program to include symptomatic and exposure testing. Members of the University community can self-schedule tests (subject to appointment availability) through our testing page.
City of Chicago Vaccine Requirement
The City of Chicago recently announced that effective January 3, people ages 5 and over will be required to show proof of vaccination to dine indoors, visit gyms, or visit entertainment venues where food or drink are served. At this time, dine-in service at University-managed Commons, cafés, and coffee shops on the Chicago campus will be limited to UChicago students and employees, as they are required to comply with University vaccination requirements to access campus facilities. Take-away food service, where offered, remains available to visitors and others. Campus theaters and select dining establishments may require proof of vaccination in the form of a UChicago ID or vaccination card for admission to those venues. Updates can be found on the websites for UChicago Dining and individual venues.
Masking and Convening Guidelines
The University has revised its masking requirements so that, at this time, instructors, presenters, and performers must remain masked at all times while indoors. Non-instruction meeting guidance has also been adjusted to promote the reduction of risk associated with certain types of convening.
The University will provide additional updates as we approach the beginning of Winter Quarter on January 10.
Policy and Administration