University shifts from green to yellow COVID-19 alert level
The change comes in response to uncertainty about the Omicron variant and concern over increased campus cases following Thanksgiving break travel.
The University announced Wednesday afternoon a shift back to the yellow COVID-19 alert level — which represents “low to moderate risk” — following a rise in cases on campus and statewide and the emergence of the Omicron variant of the virus.
University COVID-19 Coordinator Stephanie Spangler wrote in an email to the Yale community that the alert level was changing back to yellow from green — where it had hovered since Nov. 4 — in response to both fluid public health conditions and the discovery of the Omicron variant. A host of updates to University public health guidelines accompany this change, including additional testing, re-emphasized recommendations for booster shots and limited travel and off-campus indoor gatherings.
“The goal of this change and the related guidance below is to allow us to identify and isolate any infections on campus as quickly as possible and to reduce the risk of importing infections from off-campus activities during the final weeks of the semester,” Spangler wrote.
According to the University’s COVID-19 data dashboard, cases have risen over the past week. In the seven-day period ending Nov. 29, 48 individuals tested positive for the virus. Graduate and professional students reflect the bulk of those cases, logging 24 positives, with 10 undergraduates and 14 faculty members also testing positive. The current campus positivity rate is 0.64 percent. On-campus isolation housing capacity currently stands at 85 percent.
Professor Howard Forman told the News that the jump in cases is “nothing surprising” given last week’s fall recess. Many students spent time off campus over the break, traveling the country via car, plane and train and visiting family and friends who are less likely to be vaccinated. He also told the News this week that an uptick in cases was expected to come with colder weather. Forman said he thinks upshifting to yellow is an “appropriate approach” given the current numbers.
“I think the best strategy of the University is to continually readjust depending on the circumstances rather than wait for perfect,” Forman — a professor of radiology and biomedical imaging, public health, management and economics — said.
The change to yellow brings with it an array of additional public health requirements and recommendations. Yale affiliates with weekly testing requirements are asked to procure a second test this week — ideally three to four days after their first — and those without testing requirements are encouraged to test twice if they traveled over Thanksgiving break.
Campus test sites will increase appointment capacity this week by expanding hours, according to Spangler’s email. For the first time, the University’s COVID-19 screening program will also introduce unobserved self-administered nasal swab tests for “experienced testers,” likely to reduce the burden on test site employees associated with increased appointment volume.
Madeline Wilson, chief quality officer for Yale Health, sent a community-wide email Wednesday afternoon about the ramped-up testing guidelines. Additional test sites will be open this Saturday and Sunday to accommodate the second-test request, she wrote.
Spangler wrote in her email that while the University’s public health experts are actively studying Omicron and “regularly exchange” information with external public health bodies, much remains unknown about the new variant. She urged the Yale community to act with caution as additional information is collected and expressed confidence in the University’s test laboratories’ ability to detect positive Omicron cases should they appear.
CNN reported Wednesday afternoon that the first confirmed case of the Omicron variant within the United States had been detected in California.
University President Peter Salovey said in an interview with the News that he is “concerned” about Omicron, adding that the University will continue to “[monitor] the numbers” to identify any potential outbreaks. Should an outbreak occur, the primary aim is to contain it quickly to avoid spreading the virus to the larger New Haven community, overloading the health care system or risking the health of students, faculty or staff, Salovey said.
Spangler listed several recommendations for additional precautions. She asked students to limit nonessential travel through the end of the semester and encouraged them to avoid indoor dining at off-campus restaurants or bars, promoting delivery and takeout options as alternatives. Students should avoid large indoor gatherings that are not University-sponsored, Spangler wrote.
Preapproved University-sponsored events that comply with health and safety guidelines may proceed as planned. Spangler urged those with even mild symptoms to refrain from attending such gatherings and seek testing.
Yale affiliates planning on hosting guests should review the University’s visitors policy and consider asking guests to obtain a negative test before arriving on campus, Spangler wrote.
Spangler also emphasized the importance of vaccine boosters. Everyone over the age of 18 who received a two-dose series of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine more than six months ago should get boosted, as should recipients of the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine who got the jab over two months ago. The University is “strongly encouraging” all eligible community members to get boosted as soon as possible, Spangler wrote.
“We’re taking it seriously,” Salovey said.
The Yale COVID-19 Vaccine Program clinic is located at 310 Winchester Ave.
This story has been updated with additional sourcing.