The University of Nebraska-Lincoln has largely updated their COVID-19 protocols for the spring semester due to new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations for the Omicron variant.

As of Dec. 27, the CDC shortened the isolation length for those infected with COVID-19 from 10 to five days. The CDC also recommends that infected individuals continue to wear a mask and social distance for five days following isolation. 

Unvaccinated individuals who are exposed to COVID-19 should quarantine for five days after an exposure to COVID-19, followed by five days of strict mask wearing. Vaccinated individuals do not need to quarantine per the guidance. If possible, individuals should test on day five of exposure and stay home if any symptoms arise.

Dr. Mark Rupp, chief of infectious diseases at Nebraska Medicine, has made adjustments to the guidelines of treatment in Nebraska Medicine facilities, including the University Health Center, due to the recent variant.

“Recently, we’ve kind of reshuffled the deck because we needed to,” Rupp said. “This has been necessitated because the Omicron variant has really just burst onto the scene and has, you know, spread widely throughout the community.”

According to Rupp, Nebraska Medicine has changed their return to work policies for employees in coordination with CDC recommendations. Rupp said that once symptoms have improved, employees can return to work in the COVID-19 units.

“The realization is that we need, you know, everybody to work that can, so that we can keep our doors open,” Rupp said.

Rupp said he believes the CDC is attempting to avoid the guidelines that are “simply not followed,” such as the previously longer lengths of isolation.

“What’s reflected in the guidance [of the CDC] is the fact that people are most contagious early in their illness and that people staying in isolation for 10 days or longer is quite difficult, particularly when they’re feeling better,” Rupp said. 

On Jan. 5, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln officially updated its COVID-19 protocols to match those of the CDC.

“We’ve tried really hard to be as nimble as possible to stay on top of all of the national and local guidance and also create the in-person college experience that our students deserve,” Mike Zeleny, chair of the UNL COVID-19 Task Force, said.

Changes for the university’s guidelines included reduced use of the Safer Community app, an on-campus mask mandate, and reduced isolation length. According to Zeleny, the number of individuals who are overall complying with testing through the app is the main reason it is no longer being used for building access as it was in 2021.

“We believe, based on our re-entry testing which was required of students, faculty and staff this semester, that a very high level of testing was achieved,” Zeleny said. “So we continue to believe that that validates the decision to continue on the path that we’re on now.”

The university hopes to balance the safety of students with a positive in-classroom experience, changing guidelines as the cases of the variant rise and fall, according to Zeleny.

“I’m hopeful that this semester can get back to a more normal sort of phase than it has been and that testing requirements will eventually morph into random mitigation testing,” he said.

For moving forward through the Omicron variant, Rupp recommends students continue to follow the COVID-19 protocols that have been prevalent since the beginning of the pandemic.

“Everybody needs to get their vaccine, wear their mask and avoid the high risk settings,” Rupp said. “We can all do this if we do it together and get through this wave a lot better.”