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University of Wyoming won't mass-test community after winter break, citing rapid spread of omicron variant

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Students leave William Robertson Coe Library on the University of Wyoming campus in Laramie on Oct. 2, 2019.

The University of Wyoming will no longer test all of its students, faculty and staff for the coronavirus as they return winter break — though it will resume weekly surveillance testing.

In December, the school’s board of trustees made plans to mass-test university community members as they returned to campus in mid-January. That way, they could take action to quarantine anyone who was COVID-positive before any outbreaks happened.

But the swiftly spreading omicron variant called those plans into question, University President Ed Seidel said in a press release Friday.

“There’s already good reason to believe that the virus, particularly the Omicron variant, is widespread in our community,” Seidel said in the release. “Positivity rates are now growing rapidly, and the risk of creating an environment for further transmission at a mass testing event likely would offset information we would gain from it.”

The omicron variant is a new strain of the coronavirus. Since the holidays, it’s spread rapidly throughout the United States. While not much is known about omicron, it appears to be more transmissible than other forms of COVID-19, though less likely to cause severe illness.

On Thursday, the Wyoming Department of Health announced that omicron was now the most common cause of new COVID-19 infections in Wyoming. The first identified cases of omicron were found last month in UW students who lived off campus.

The university planned to mass-test community members from Jan. 12 to 16. Anyone who wants to get tested those days still can, according to the release.

The school will continue testing a random sample of 3% of its community each week, beginning Jan. 18. Voluntary testing is still available.

Those who aren’t on campus that week, are sick, in quarantine or have tested positive for COVID-19 within the last 90 days don’t have to participate in surveillance testing, the release said.

In its December meeting, the board of trustees also decided to keep its mask mandate in place. That rule requires students and employees to wear masks in most university buildings when social distancing isn’t possible.

As of Thursday, 82 members of the university community had COVID-19. That include 45 off-campus students, 15 on-campus students and 22 employees.

“While it appears the semester will start with a lot of COVID — with a shift toward milder symptoms or even asymptomatic infections — experts say there’s reason for optimism that we will emerge from pandemic conditions sooner than later,” Seidel said in the release.

COVID-19 vaccinations aren’t required for students and most university employees. However, those who have been vaccinated and received a booster shot don’t have to quarantine if exposed to COVID-19, the school announced Friday in a separate release.

Those who are exposed to COVID-19 and haven’t had a booster shot still have to quarantine for five-days, according to the release. Anyone who tests positive for the virus still has to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s isolation protocol.

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