The University of Nebraska-Lincoln announced updated COVID-19 protocols for the spring semester Wednesday morning as the omicron variant rapidly spreads around the country.
Chancellor Ronnie Green announced changes to already announced policies in an email that UNL will require face coverings indoors “temporarily.” The Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department did not extend Lincoln’s mask mandate, with it expiring on Dec. 23. Green said university officials will keep evaluating the presence and spread of the coronavirus on campus and whether the university can eventually revert to course-specific mask requirements.
Additionally, all students, faculty and staff on Lincoln campuses will be required to undergo a round of re-entry testing before the semester begins, similar to the spring and fall 2020 semesters. Faculty, staff and student workers who have returned to campus are asked to test Jan. 9-13. All other students must test Jan. 14-21.
Community members can make a testing appointment at the Nebraska Union, East Nebraska Union and East Stadium Loop drive-thru testing locations using the Safer Community app, though Green encouraged testing at the first two due to staff shortages at the East Stadium. These locations will have expanded hours Jan. 14-21: 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays and 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Jan. 15 and 16.
Those who have tested positive for COVID-19 with a PCR test in the last 90 days can request a testing exemption.
Random mitigation testing will begin after required re-entry testing the week of Jan. 24, Green said in the email. Participants will be selected from all community members regardless of whether they’ve uploaded vaccine information to the Voluntary Vaccine Registry.
The Safer Community app will not be used to access campus buildings and events like it was for previous semesters. Wellness attendants will also no longer be posted at campus building entrances, according to Leslie Reed, UNL’s public affairs director.
“We announced that change at the end of last semester,” Reed said, “and at that time and [we] continue to feel that we have adequate protocols in place and that [it] was no longer necessary to continue in that approach.”
The university is also adhering to the new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendation reducing isolation from 10 to a minimum of five days. However, individuals may only resume activities after five days if they are fever-free with all other symptoms improving. Students who live in residence halls can resume activities after five days but must continue to sleep and eat in free, university-provided isolation housing for an additional five days, according to Reed.
“They can go to class [after the first five days], go to their clubs or whatever they do,” Reed said. “But just having somebody sleep in the same room and eat in the same room, we don’t want to run the risk of getting others sick.”
Green encouraged community members to upload their COVID-19 booster information to the vaccine registry if they have received it. He also promoted two on-campus booster clinics on Jan. 26 — one in the Nebraska Union Ballroom from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and the other in the East Campus Union Prairie Suite from 3-5 p.m.
Green’s email arrives a day after the health department announced its COVID-19 risk dial moved from high orange to red, indicating a severe risk, the highest possible indicator, for coronavirus spread. The dial has not been in this position since Jan. 19, 2021. A new directed health measure, including a mask mandate, was not issued by the department.
“None of us wanted to start 2022 preparing for another surge of COVID-19,” Green said in his email. “But the omicron variant has rapidly taken hold, and we need to take these actions to help ensure the safety of our campus community.”
This article was updated at 11:50 a.m. to include additional information regarding wellness attendants and isolation protocols.