As COVID-19 cases continue to rise due to the Omicron variant, Elon University’s short-term winter programs are adapting to fit new restrictions, and in some cases, programs are being canceled altogether.
According to Matt Buckmaster, Assistant Dean of Global Education, there are 1,000 plus students, faculty and staff members planning to take part in Winter Term programs this January. Buckmaster said he understands many students may feel anxious traveling or waiting for more information on their programs.
“We’re trying to do our best in a rapidly changing and evolving situation,” Buckmaster said. “The challenge of course is there’s just so many variables, not only country by country that are changing hourly, but every student and every parent has a different, really valid, valuable concern we’re trying to address.”
The Global Education Center will host two Zoom Q&A sessions on Dec. 28 and 29 to discuss questions and concerns surrounding study abroad plans. Buckmaster said the GEC welcomes all students or family members to attend these sessions. The GEC also told students to expect updates daily at 4 p.m.
As of Dec. 28, according to the GEC Winter Term status website, The Teaching Fellows program in Washington D.C., the Business In The Pacific Rim course, the Holocaust Journey courses have all been modified due to the surge in Omicron cases.
Rather than a full trip to D.C. for the entirety of Winter Term, Teaching Fellows will travel for the first week and return to campus for the remainder of Winter Term. The Business In The Pacific Rim course will now visit the United Kingdom rather than Southeast Asia. The Holocaust Journey course will no longer be visiting the Netherlands as part of the trip.
The GBL 2610 Netherlands: Sex, Gender and Culture course was canceled on Dec. 28. The Netherlands has imposed some of the toughest restrictions in the EU. The country went into lockdown on Dec. 19 and will continue until Jan. 14, 2022. Throughout the lockdown, the maximum group size outdoors is no more than two people 13 years and over, and all non-essential shops are closed. Schools are closed until Jan. 9.
The Flying Dragon, Innovation in Israel and India: Public Health Studies Practicum courses were all canceled previously.
Nearly 1,000 U.S. flights were canceled and over 2,000 were delayed as of Dec. 27, according to FlightAware — a service that tracks flight statuses in real-time. While winter weather delays are part of the problem, airlines such as Delta have issued statements explaining the impact Omicron has had, as well, according to USA Today. With so many employees sick, worker shortages contribute to the delays as well.
In the past 30 days, the U.S. has seen over 51,000,000 cases. The Centers for Disease Control classifies the U.S. as having a "high community transmission" rate as of Dec. 27. New York, where some Elon students may fly from for international trips, hit a record high in the last week: 223,956 cases from Dec. 19 to 25 and a 11.7% positivity rate, according to data from Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center.
New York, D.C. and New Jersey were also among the highest-risk places in the U.S., according to an NPR report. According to the Spring 2021 Registrar’s Report, 8.6% of Elon students are from New Jersey, 7.6% are from New York and 0.2% are from D.C.
For students still able to go abroad, Buckmaster said a theme of calls to the GEC on Dec. 27 was concerns regarding testing requirements. Some abroad destinations require students to be tested a certain number of hours beforehand, while others require a certain type of test.
Buckmaster said the GEC recommends “a multiple approach:” scheduling a testing appointment, and then having multiple backup plans, such as finding out if the airport has testing availability or trying to secure an at-home test.
Buckmaster said as the GEC works to support students, faculty and staff going abroad, they are prioritizing the health and safety of Elon community members and balancing that with maintaining a good abroad experience.
“You’re an Elon student, maybe part of the reason you came was for a global engagement experience, to study abroad,” Buckmaster said. “There's a lot of those students, we want to value them and if we can do it safely and get a good experience, we really want to do that for them.”