As the Omicron variant hits US and Canada, universities move to virtual learning once more

Universities in Canada and the US are moving exams and classes virtually after surges in the Omicron variant were detected in both countries.
More universities in US and Canada are moving exams and classes online until January 2022 due to the alarming spikes in Omicron cases. Source: Maddie Meyer / AFP

The rapid spread of the Omicron variant in US and Canada is dimming the silver lining of face-to-face learning. Just when students are re-adjusting to physical classes, both countries are bracing for a fourth wave of surging COVID-19 infections ahead of the holiday season. 

The concern over alarming case spikes has led to many universities in Canada and the US moving learning online, with in-person exams delayed or cancelled. Some institutions have announced that online classes would extend until the beginning of the Winter 2022 term.

As more universities raise the alarm on the Omicron threat, here is a roundup of how the new variant is affecting university students in Canada and the US: 

Wave of Omicron variant hits Ontario: Universities move classes online, cancel exams 

If you’re a student in Ontario, take note that new restrictions are now in place to limit public gatherings. The announcement was made by Premier Doug Ford on December 17 shortly after the province recorded more than 3,000 new COVID-19 cases, CTV News reports.  

University of Toronto has effectively cancelled all in-person Fall term exams and delayed physical classes until January 31. Online exams will continue as planned, however, according to an official statement on the university’s website.

York University in Toronto has also joined the move to virtual learning, CBC reports. “From the start of term until January 23, all classes will be delivered in a remote format unless it is essential that they be delivered in-person,” the university’s president, Rhonda Lenton, was quoted saying

In Hamilton, McMaster University announced a new academic plan for the coming term, with most classes moved online at least for the first week. The university says it has developed “comprehensive protocols” for confirmed cases, after 14 COVID-19 cases were reported on campus as of December 17. 

Queen’s University in Kingston has recorded nearly 300 cases on campus, according to The Kingstonist. An unprecedented outbreak was detected among the university’s sports and residential community, with the Omicron variant suspected among the new case spikes.

Elsewhere in Ontario, Western University has also switched to online exams, and Laurentian University in Sudbury is under investigation for a suspected case of the COVID-19 Omicron variant, CBC reports.

Omicron variant detected in the University of Calgary; Quebec renews restrictions

According to the Global News, the Omicron variant has arrived at the University of Calgary. The university confirmed in an email that an individual on campus has tested positive on the variant. 

“The people who were in the same classroom as the individual have been informed and asked to monitor for symptoms,” provost Teri Balser was quoted saying.

In Quebec, the provincial government made an announcement on December 17 to renew restrictions, which included deferring in-person classes for secondary and post-secondary students. Epidemiologists have warned that Omicron cases will “just no doubt” take over the province if caution is not exercised, The Montreal Gazette reports

Universities in the US respond to Omicron; Cornell University on Alert Level Red

In the US, more than 133,000 new COVID-19 cases have been detected as of December 19, prompting a swift response from universities. Harvard University declared remote learning for the first three weeks of January, after detecting 359 new cases in the past week.  

Middlebury College in Vermont made an announcement on December 9 to move all remaining Fall classes and exams online. The campus is on Orange Alert Level with 52 active cases as of December 17. 

Both Southern New Hampshire University and DePaul University in Chicago will jump to remote instruction in early January due to the potential surge in COVID-19 cases over the holidays.

Meanwhile, Cornell University has shut down its campus and cancelled its December graduation ceremony after moving to Alert Level Red, according to a statement. The university has detected a “significant number” of the Omicron variant in the recent outbreak on campus. All final exams have been moved online as of December 14. 

The US government has recently enacted stricter measures for international travels, requiring passengers to test negative for COVID-19 within 24 hours before boarding their flight.