Yale administrators announced on Saturday that they have moved all remaining final exams online, following a number of peer institutions including Princeton and Cornell. Spring semester classes are still scheduled to begin on Jan. 18 and experts said a fully remote term is unlikely, but administrators have not yet ruled out the possibility of a remote start to the semester.

Deans Marvin Chun, Lynn Cooley and Tamar Gendler issued a joint statement Saturday evening. Per the statement, students are encouraged, though not required, to leave campus early. The same day, Yale’s COVID-19 dashboard was updated to reflect the largest number of COVID-19 cases the University has reported in a single day. According to its COVID-19 dashboard, Yale has seen 110 cases in the seven days between Dec. 10 and Dec. 16, with 34 of those cases detected on Dec. 15. Twenty-one of the positive cases during the seven day period were among Yale undergraduates. Gendler told the News that the decision to move finals online is a direct result of rising cases in recent days among the undergraduate population.  

“We are hopeful that we will be able to begin the semester in person, but in light of the rapidly changing public health conditions, we ask you to plan for the possibility that some or all activities will take place remotely at the outset of the semester,” their email reads.

The email urged students to take books, electronics and medications with them upon their departure in case their return to campus is delayed. 

The statement outlines a series of options to help Yale College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences students transition to finishing the semester remotely. 

Students whose synchronous exams or written assignments are disrupted by travel “may request and will receive” permission from their residential college dean to postpone them. 

Students who postpone academic work until after Dec. 22, the originally scheduled end date of examinations, will receive a temporary grade of temporary incomplete (TI) or authorized postponement of a final examination (ABX) on their transcript for that course. 

Instructors may replace their exams with remote assignments. They may also cancel the final exam entirely and base grades on work completed earlier in the semester. Students whose professors decide to do so have the option to convert their grades to credit rather than a letter grade, which will not count towards the regular limit on CR/D/Fail grades.   

Students on financial aid may apply for reimbursements of any fees they incur as a result of leaving campus early. Students are encouraged to submit travel receipts to SafetyNet in the “emergency travel” category. 

Additionally, administrators announced that all 14 residential college gyms were closed by the Yale College Dean’s Office yesterday.

The decision to move finals online comes after several of Yale’s peer institutions took the same step. Columbia, Princeton, Cornell and the University of Pennsylvania all announced this week that they would hold their final exams online. 

Many Yale students have already started taking their final examinations, which officially began on Dec. 16.

Gendler explained the decision was made so that students do not become infected with COVID-19 and need to stay in isolation housing during winter recess.

“The worry was that, if there were an outbreak, we might have large numbers of students that would have to quarantine and be unable to travel home for the holidays, and we don’t want that to happen,” Gendler said in an interview with the News.

Dean of Yale School of Public Health Sten Vermund, a member of the public health committee that advises University COVID-19 Coordinator Stephanie Spangler, attributed the spike in cases to a confluence of factors.

“I think that residual transmission cycles established at Thanksgiving get-togethers may be partly responsible,” Vermund said. “Then we are seeing Omicron and that is probably responsible for a little bit of it and then we have  holiday preparations and holiday get togethers” 

Vermund also emphasized that the cool and dry winter weather creates “friendly conditions” for all respiratory viruses, not just COVID-19.

The rise in cases within the Yale community and the spread of the more transmissible Omicron variant have generated discussion about students’ return to campus in January and what the spring semester will look like. 

Professor of radiology and biomedical imaging, public health, management and economics Howard Forman speculated that students might be asked to begin the semester remotely to reduce risk of students bringing the virus back to campus. 

“I’m presuming that that’s at least the lower limit of what the school would do, just for purposes of quarantine,” Forman said. “After arriving back, and doing the first aggressive round of testing, that makes a lot of sense to me.” 

According to Vermund, safety precautions for reentry to campus in January are “all still under discussion” and could change based on the spread of the Omicron variant. 

Vermund said that “some sort of quarantine” would be a possible third line of defense against the virus after booster shots and periodic testing. Arrival quarantines could result in remote learning for “a week or two” at the beginning of the semester, a possibility which Vermund said was under consideration.

However, Vermund emphasized that it was unlikely that campus would return to the hard shutdown of March 2020, emphasizing the effectiveness of the vaccine in preventing serious illness as a result of COVID-19. 

“My personal opinion is that fully vaccinated and boosted students, staff and faculty members have created a tremendous safety barrier,” Vermund said. “The consequences of infection are not very great. Now, that doesn’t mean that we want to simply let infection run roughshod, because there are vulnerable people in our community— folks who are immunosuppressed or not responding as efficiently and effectively to vaccination. So we do want to keep cases to a minimum, but I think that going into the sort of lockdown as in April of 2020 is not even remotely needed.” 

Although the rise of the Omicron variant leaves much unknown, Forman said that he is hopeful that the semester will be able to proceed relatively normally after a reentry period. 

“If we do twice weekly testing of students, we’re really in a pretty good position,” Forman said. “I hope we actually keep things close to normal for students. Yale has done extremely well, and I think it would be disappointing to change that, particularly when they have done as well as they have.”

Undergraduate students are currently required to test twice weekly. 

Isaac Yu was the News' managing editor. He covered transportation and faculty as a reporter and laid out the front page of the weekly print edition. He co-founded the News' Audience desk, which oversees social media and the newsletter. He was a leader of the News' Asian American and low-income affinity groups. Hailing from Garland, Texas, Isaac is a Berkeley College junior majoring in American Studies.
Lucy Hodgman is the editor-in-chief and president of the News. She previously covered student life and the Yale College Council. Originally from Brooklyn, New York, she is a junior in Grace Hopper majoring in English.