By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily
Concerns over the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant have prompted University of Wyoming officials to reverse their decision to test everyone who would be spending time on campus during the upcoming spring semester.
University officials said Monday, they will instead allow for voluntary COVID testing by students and staff.
University officials said they were concerned the risk of a mass testing event such as the one proposed earlier leading to a greater spread of the disease would outweigh any benefits from the testing.
“We are concerned about COVID spreading on campus, with or without the one-time testing of everyone,” UW spokesman Chad Baldwin told Cowboy State Daily on Monday. “That’s why we’re continuing our weekly random-sample testing, indoor mask requirement (until at least Feb. 16) and strong encouragement of vaccinations and boosters. At the same time, we’re encouraged by the fact that Omicron appears to be causing less severe illness, and there is reason for optimism that the Omicron wave will pass relatively quickly.”
Instead of requiring all students and employees to be test for COVID this week in advance of the spring semester scheduled to begin Jan. 18, the university will offer voluntary testing for members of the campus community. There are plans to resume weekly random sample tests of 3% of the campus community.
“There’s already good reason to believe that the virus, particularly the Omicron variant, is widespread in our community. Positivity rates are now growing rapidly, and the risk of creating an environment for further transmission at a mass testing event likely would offset information we would gain from it,” UW President Ed Seidel said. “We’re making this late change in plans in response to the rapidly changing landscape caused by Omicron, which is highly transmissible but appears to cause less severe illness than previous versions of COVID-19.”
As of Thursday, there were 82 active cases of COVID-19 among the UW community: 22 employees, 15 on-campus students and 45 off-campus students. As of Friday, Albany County had 280 active COVID cases.
“Based upon what we’re seeing around the country and the state, it is no longer practical to think that we’re going to contain the Omicron variant in our community,” Seidel said. “What we can do is encourage people to take actions to protect their personal health, and that of their families and friends, by mitigating the spread to the extent possible and reducing the chance of severe illness, hospitalization and death.”
University officials will continue to emphasize the UW’s current mask requirement for most indoor spaces and encourage vaccination and boosters.
“While it appears the semester will start with a lot of COVID, with a shift toward milder symptoms or even asymptomatic infections, experts say there’s reason for optimism that we will emerge from pandemic conditions sooner than later,” Seidel said.