Just weeks before students begin returning to campus on Jan. 14, the University is seeing an increase in COVID-19 cases among staff and faculty. During the week of Dec. 25 to Dec. 31, there were 170 positive cases, 131 of them from staff and faculty members, according to Princeton’s COVID-19 Dashboard.
The overall campus positivity rate currently sits at just over five percent for the week of Dec. 25-31.
The campus risk status has also been elevated to “High” for the first time this semester. According to the dashboard, a high-risk level indicates that the “ability to provide isolation, quarantine, contact tracing, etc. may be compromised.” Previously, the risk status had stood at “Moderate-to-High.”
In a memo sent to staff on Jan. 4, Provost Deborah Prentice & Executive Vice President Treby Williams requested that staff who can work remotely do so between Jan. 4 and Jan. 31.
Staff who work remotely will not have to participate in the University testing protocol, “which will relieve the pressure on the testing lab and our contact tracing program as students return to campus starting January 14.”
The memo also noted that there were no case clusters among staff during the fall semester, and that the University has no plans to “de-densify,” or reduce the number of people on campus, but said that the University “would like to identify at least 2,000 staff members to work remotely in January.”
While the University does expect a rise in cases as faculty and students return from winter break, the memo noted, the implementation of masking and the other COVID restrictions in place should mitigate the exposure risk, including requirements that all students continue to test twice a week.
According to a tweet from the official Princeton University account on Jan. 4, the University remains committed to plans for an in-person spring semester, and that they “do not anticipate significant changes to University operations or activities in the coming term.”
The University will also maintain a 10-day isolation period for students who test positive, as New Jersey state guidelines have not yet extended the new five-day quarantine period to higher-education institutions.
Students who are not vaccinated or have not received their booster and are in close contact with someone who tests positive for COVID-19 may be asked to isolate for five days. New guidelines released in a Dec. 27 memo from Dean of the College Jill Dolan and Vice President for Campus Life Rochelle Calhoun announced that if isolation housing reaches capacity, students may be required to isolate in their residence or dorm room. Isolation priority will be given to students who share bedrooms.
This rise in cases comes after the University has already implemented a number of COVID-19 policy changes, such as postponing the arrival of students from Jan. 7 to Jan. 14, which prevented in-person attendance during the first week of Wintersession for students not already on campus. Restrictions were also implemented that prohibit students from traveling outside of Mercer County and Plainsboro Township until at least mid-February and will limit social gatherings to 20 students.
This time last month, the University was in the midst of the first COVID-19 spike this academic year. From Nov. 27 to Dec. 3, the University experienced 84 positive cases and a campus positivity rate of 0.34%, which resulted in isolation dorms nearing capacity, finals being moved online, and students being encouraged by Dolan to “leave campus at their earliest convenience.”
Sidney Singer is a Staff Writer for the ‘Prince.’ She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter @SidneylSinger, or on Instagram @SidneySinger.