Wayne State, Oakland move classes online, citing 'alarming' COVID-19 cases

Hani Barghouthi
The Detroit News

Detroit — Wayne State University will begin the winter semester online and continue virtually through at least Jan. 31, the university's president announced Thursday, citing an anticipated increase in COVID-19 cases due to the highly contagious omicron variant. 

All in-person classes will temporarily shift to virtual classes, said M. Roy Wilson in an email to the campus community. He wrote that the "number of cases in the Detroit area has already reached an alarming level." 

"We also know from the best predictive models that we will see a time-limited but rapid increase in the number of cases in our region over the coming few weeks," Wilson added. 

Oakland University announced Tuesday that classes would move online for the first two weeks of the winter semester, Jan. 5-18. 

WSU announced last week that it was requiring all eligible students receive booster shots of the COVID-19 vaccine starting Jan. 3, which Wilson announced the Campus Health Center was offering to students. 

Winter semester classes are scheduled to resume on Jan. 10.

"Critical infrastructure" employees will continue to work in-person, said Wilson, but all other employees will work remotely.

Certain facilities such as campus libraries, the WSU Bookstore, the Mort Harris Recreation and Fitness Center, the Student Center including Midtown Market and the food court will remain open to students with enhanced safety protocols including mask-wearing. 

All on-campus events and activities — both indoor and outdoor — are canceled or moved to virtual.

International students may continue to move in as planned, said Wilson, but guest visitation to campus residents will be limited to residents only beginning Sunday. 

Students in clinical classes in the licensed health professions at the school will receive instructions from their deans, Wilson announced.

Wilson said it is hoped that the school can resume in-person classes and activities at the beginning of February.

Oakland University President Ora Hirsch Pescovitz said the school is "...proud of the health and safety measures our campus community has taken over the past two years. We are grateful that the campus community compliance rates are very high. That said, we also understand that we have to continue to actively work to maintain our health and safety as we go into the Winter semester and the new year.”

The school said with so many students and staff traveling over the holidays and the spread of omicron, the two-week virtual period was "prudent" and also allows for quarantine time for anyone exposed over the break.

Oakland's Kresge Library will operate on limited hours while classes are virtual, the university announced. Scheduled athletic events will take place as planned and other auxiliary university services will operate on their normal schedules unless otherwise posted, and scheduled appointments for vaccines and boosters are available to students on campus.

A small number of courses — such as labs, lab-based research and field experiences —would meet in person beginning Jan. 5 and students were asked to contact instructors for information.

Hospitals in Michigan are grappling with record-high numbers of COVID-19 patients in the state's fourth surge of infections. On Wednesday, a fourth military team of 17 people was deployed to Michigan to help care for patients. 

The surge is being driven by the highly-contagious omicron variant of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, the first case of which was recorded in Michigan on Dec. 9 in Kent County in a man who was fully vaccinated but had not received a booster shot.

As of Tuesday, eight cases of the highly contagious variant have been identified in Genesee, Kent, Macomb, Washtenaw, Wayne and Oakland counties, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.