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Princeton, Cornell move finals online as Omicron is detected

Students on campus at Princeton University in Princeton, N.J., on April 10, 2021.KARSTEN MORAN/NYT

Princeton University moved final exams online after the school saw an increase in Covid-19 cases among undergraduates during the last 24 hours, including suspected cases of the highly contagious omicron variant.

The move follows Cornell University's decision on Tuesday to move finals online, cancel activities involving undergraduates and shut libraries after the school in Ithaca, New York, found evidence of the variant in a "significant number" of student samples.

Princeton, in Princeton, New Jersey, is also canceling or postponing all indoor gatherings with food, and those where face coverings can't be worn. It advised students to leave "at their earliest convenience."

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"We hope to avoid letting the final exam schedule interfere with students' travel home for winter break," Jill Dolan, dean of the college, and W. Rochelle Calhoun, Princeton's vice president for campus life, wrote to students Tuesday night. "We certainly don't want you remaining on campus in required isolation through the holidays."

Cornell moved to "alert level red" days before the end of the semester, closing the campus to visitors and instructing students to avoid nonessential contact with others, according to a statement on its website Tuesday.

"Our surveillance testing has continued to identify the rapid spread of Covid-19 among our student population," Cornell President Martha Pollack said in the statement. "While I want to provide reassurance that, to date, we have not seen severe illness in any of our infected students, we do have a role to play in reducing the spread of the disease in the broader community."

College campuses largely returned to normal this semester, as they held in-person classes and indoor sporting events. Yet the latest variant is spreading as students prepare to leave for the holiday break, dispersing across the U.S. and beyond.

Cornell is asking students who haven't tested negative in the past 48 hours to get a supplemental test as soon as possible and remain on campus until they receive results. The school reported 469 active student cases of Covid-19 as of Sunday, according to its dashboard.

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New York has identified 38 cases of the omicron variant in the state, Governor Kathy Hochul said Tuesday. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the variant now comprises 3% of all sequenced cases in the country, up from 0.1% in early December.