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Area colleges adjust plans amid omicron surge

Monmouth College
Classes will be remote at Monmouth College when the semester begins Monday due to concerns over the omicron variant.

As COVID-19 cases continue to soar throughout the region, area residential colleges are adjusting their plans and protocols.

At Monmouth College, where 84% of students and 93% of employees are fully vaccinated, students are returning to campus.

But classes will be held remotely for the first two weeks of the semester, which begins Monday.

In a letter to the campus community, Monmouth College President Clarence Wyatt said he had hoped this would be the semester when campus life returned to normal.

“But because of the curve we have been thrown by the omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus, we must take several measures to ensure the campus remains safe and healthy,” Wyatt said in the letter.

All students at Monmouth are being issued KN95 masks, which must be worn every time they are outside their dorm rooms.

In addition, meals will only be served in a grab-and-go format and nearly all cocurricular activities will be suspended.

College officials are hoping this “cool down” period will ensure the rest of the semester can continue as scheduled.

The winter term at Knox College started Jan. 3. They, too, are holding classes remotely for the first two weeks of the semester.

Officials there said initial testing prior to the start of the term revealed a higher positivity rate than any other point in the pandemic.

At Knox, 95% of students and 93% of employees are fully vaccinated.

But with the omicron variant, Knox is seeing more breakthrough and asymptomatic cases on campus, officials said.

Classes are set to begin at Western Illinois University on Jan. 18.

WIU is planning to resume the traditional in-person experience, but is implementing mandatory gateway testing for all students, faculty and staff.

Weekly testing will be required for every member of the campus community throughout January, regardless of vaccination status. 

Those returning to campus are encouraged to get tested at a location near their home, if possible, within 72 hours of planned arrival.

Testing will also be provided on both the Macomb and Quad Cities campuses.

"While we certainly hoped to have a different start to the spring semester, we must keep the health and safety of our university community at the forefront of our decisions. We will continue to follow science and recommendations from local, state and federal health professionals," said WIU President Guiyou Huang in a message to the campus community.

Tri States Public Radio produced this story.  TSPR relies on financial support from our readers and listeners in order to provide coverage of the issues that matter to west central Illinois, southeast Iowa, and northeast Missouri. As someone who values the content created by TSPR's news department please consider making a financial contribution.

Jane Carlson is TSPR's regional reporter.