Emory University will conduct spring semester courses remotely for the first three weeks of school due to the rising cases of the Omicron variant, according to a Dec. 28 email from University President Gregory L. Fenves to the Emory community. 

The campus, including residence halls, will open as planned on Jan. 4 and students are not required to alter their move-in plans. Students who plan to return to campus housing during the remote period must provide their return date on the MyHousing portal

Classes will transition back to an in-person format “should conditions permit” on Jan. 31. The University will cancel classes held on Jan. 27 and 28 to allow students time to move back into their housing, according to the email.  

“I understand that beginning the semester with remote learning and teaching is inconvenient, particularly for students and families who have already made travel arrangements, faculty who have planned in-person coursework, and staff who have made countless adjustments to their protocols throughout the past two years,” Fenves wrote. “But we must be adaptable during this surge so we can continue our important work—learning, teaching, creating, and discovering—in the face of this ever-evolving pandemic.”

Exceptions to the remote start include clinical and research activities, classes in the School of Medicine and “other select activities,” according to the Emory Forward website. Deans will be in touch with students with information particular to their schools.

More information about the remote start will be provided in an Emory Forward message later this afternoon. Students can find currently available information on the Forward website

Emory’s decision follows many peer institutions’ updated spring semester plans. For instance, Northwestern University (Ill.) and Stanford University (Ca.) will move to remote operations for the first two weeks of January. Duke University (N.C.) is turning to remote learning for the first week of the spring semester. 

Emory’s vaccine requirement means nearly all community members have received the vaccine with 98.1% of students and 97.1% of faculty and staff having received their second dose as of Dec. 27, the Emory COVID-19 dashboard shows. 

The University also now requires that students, faculty and staff receive a vaccine booster shot by Jan. 19. 

Despite the high vaccination rate, the University has also experienced a surge in cases, with 104 students testing positive over the last 10 days. On Dec. 21, 23 students tested positive for COVID-19, marking the largest number of cases in a single day since Sept. 8. 

The announcement coincides with a COVID-19 surge in Atlanta, largely spurred by the Omicron variant. 

As of Dec. 27, cases in Georgia have increased 299% and cases in DeKalb County are up 475%. DeKalb County also has its highest seven-day average—556 cases—since the start of the pandemic. 

In the Atlanta area, nearly 31% of molecular PCR tests came back positive on Dec. 27, a record high. This spike is overwhelming Atlanta’s hospital system, with 21 Atlanta-area emergency rooms turning away ambulances that same day, including Emory’s flagship hospital. 

Georgia also has a low vaccination rate. Just 51% of Georgians have received their final dose of a vaccine as of Dec. 27, making Georgia the sixth least vaccinated state.

As of Dec. 24, 55.4% of residents have received their final dose of a vaccine and 18% of residents have received a booster.

“With all that we have faced since March 2020, we know that we can effectively teach and learn remotely at Emory,” Fenves wrote. “We also know how special the on-campus experience is. That is why we are making this decision now—so that we can carry out the rest of the spring semester on our wonderful campuses in Atlanta and Oxford.”