Willamette U. moving large classes online to begin spring semester


Willamette University (Via Google Maps)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Due to the rapidly spreading omicron COVID-19 variant, Willamette University will be moving many of its large classes online to start the next semester.

First reported by the Salem Reporter, the Salem university will move many large classes online for at least the first two weeks of the spring semester. School officials say this is to give students and staff a chance to identify any positive cases from traveling over winter break.

Among the classes moving online are larger lecture halls and most law classes, according to Willamette University President Steve Thorsett. However, lab, studio and field-based classes will remain in person — along with sports.

Willamette’s COVID advisory team made the announcement shortly after Gov. Kate Brown’s press conference on Friday, in which she and health officials warned of an impending surge of COVID-19 cases.

“People should be planning to be flexible as we learn more about Omicron in the next couple of weeks in case the state or the federal guidance changes,” he said.

Thorsett says this change is “mostly about signaling flexibility.”

“We’re pretty confident that we can manage through monitoring and testing,” he said.

According to the Salem Reporter, Willamette has recorded a total of 50 Covid cases among students and staff on its Salem campus and five on its Portland campus since August.

Omicron cases are expected to exceed the number of delta cases which peaked at 1,200. Officials predict omicron will reach 3,000 cases.

“Now we must double down on following the measures we know will keep us as safe as possible,” Dr. Renee Edwards, the Chief Medical Officer at OHSU Health, said. “The time to act is now.”

On Friday, Brown announced the state aims to administer booster shots to a million Oregonians by the end of January, which health officials echoed is an attainable goal.

“While we are all still learning about this new variant, it is clear from the experiences of the United Kingdom and other countries that we have only weeks to prepare before Omicron hits our communities and health care systems in full force,” Brown said. “Masks, vaccines, and the incredible efforts of our health care workers, public health partners, and National Guard members have seen us through the Delta surge. We will need to make the same statewide, collaborative efforts to see us through Omicron.”

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