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Princeton increases testing frequency, limits social gatherings amid Thanksgiving COVID-19 surge

The classroom mask mandate will remain for the rest of the semester.

<h5>McCosh Health Center</h5>
<h6>Abby de Riel / The Daily Princetonian</h6>
McCosh Health Center
Abby de Riel / The Daily Princetonian

The University will increase COVID-19 testing frequency, introduce a cap on non-academic gathering size, and double down on its mask mandate in an effort to avoid a post-Thanksgiving surge in COVID-19 cases.

Earlier this afternoon, these updates were posted to the University’s COVID-19 Resources website. The web page details plans to avoid a further uptick in cases after the University saw a semester high in positive test results last week.

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All undergraduate students, regardless of vaccination status, will be required to submit two COVID-19 tests per week after returning to campus from Thanksgiving break, according to the update. Student athletes participating in group practices will test three times per week.

Immediately upon returning to campus, undergraduates must submit a COVID-19 test and “wear face coverings around roommates or suite-mates” until they receive a negative result. The testing lab will reopen on Sunday, Nov. 28 to process tests.

The website also encouraged students to get tested before leaving for campus, “especially if traveling via plane, train or other public transportation.”

Once students have returned, “student social gatherings with more than 20 people are prohibited until our cases decrease,” according to an email announcing the policy changes sent from Dean of the College Jill Dolan to undergraduates at 2:51 p.m.

Students will also be required to wear masks in all academic contexts for the remainder of the semester — a departure from previous policies which allowed students in classes with fewer than 12 people to go without masks. In a Nov. 11 email to the campus community, the University previously expressed an intention to “issue relaxed guidance for face coverings” in the 10 days following the Thanksgiving holiday, given low case numbers.

The changes come after last week saw the largest uptick in positive tests for the virus that causes COVID-19 among the campus community since August 2020, when asymptomatic testing began. Over 30 undergraduates tested positive for COVID-19 between Monday, Nov. 22 and Friday, Nov. 26 — a sharp increase after weeks in the single digits.

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The updates also come amid growing concerns about the new omicron variant of the virus, though no cases of this most recent variant have been reported in the United States as of Saturday afternoon.

“We’re monitoring the news from South Africa about the Omicron variant,” Dolan wrote in her email, “which has not been detected in our campus cases.”

On Saturday, Nov. 27, the campus risk status was raised to “Moderate to High,” meaning that “case rates are moderate to high, transmission rates are high, and/or there is reduced capacity for patient care on campus or in local hospitals, isolation space, testing, contact tracing, or other services.” The risk status definition also states that “Multiple factors forecast that the rate of infection may continue to increase.”

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As of Saturday afternoon, the University’s COVID-19 dashboard indicated that isolation dormitories on campus are currently at 11.7 percent capacity.

For the remainder of the semester — including just six more days of regular classes — it is recommended for instructors to record lectures and make them available on Canvas, consider “converting seated final exams to take-home exams,” and accommodate students in mandated isolation.

“We hope you’ll be able to complete your semester’s coursework without interruption,” Dolan wrote.

According to the Interclub Council (ICC) Vice President Savannah Hampton ’22, all of the eating clubs were planning to have their semester formal events this weekend. “Formals have been scheduled for the coming weekend for the entire semester. Because of this, we have recently been brainstorming ways to keep our members safe,” she wrote in a message to The Daily Princetonian.

“We had come up with some ICC-wide policies to try and make it as safe as possible, including requiring two tests this week for all members; however, that all just got thrown out the window,” she added in an interview with the ‘Prince.’

In a message to the ‘Prince,’ Aaron Brzezinski ’24 expressed disappointment but understanding in the decisions.

“It’s hard not to feel like we’re falling backwards and reliving last year, thinking about all the things we could lose all over again,” he wrote. “But I think it’s a reasonable response from the University.”

Student group leaders received an email from Assistant Dean of Undergraduate Students and Director of Student Leadership and Engagement Ian Deas, stating that “The adjustment of campus COVID protocols will impact student organization activity for the remainder of the semester.” A town hall will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 30, and office hours will be held later that week to explain the impact of the restrictions on individual groups.

Editor’s Note: This story was updated soon after publication to include further student comment and updates regarding student groups. It was also later updated to clarify that instructors are recommended, not required, to record lectures. The ‘Prince’ regrets this error. Additionally, the graphic embedded within this story was updated on Nov. 29 following updates to the University COVID-19 dashboard.

Katherine Dailey is an assistant news editor who often covers University affairs and breaking news. She can be reached at kdailey@princeton.edu or on Twitter at @kmdailey7.

Andrew Somerville is a staff writer who corresponds with and covers USG happenings and other campus news. He can be reached at jas19@princeton.edu.

Mark Dodici is the multimedia liaison and produces Daybreak's daily briefings. He also writes for News, designs print issues, and formerly covered baseball and swimming for Sports. He can be reached at mdodici@princeton.edu, or follow him on Twitter @MarkDodici.

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