Harvard University announced Saturday that it will return to remote learning for the first few weeks of 2022 as infection concerns grow in the face of a new coronavirus variant.

The Ivy League institution told students and staff that it would spend the first three weeks of January returning to online courses as coronavirus infections increase locally and worldwide. Only students who were authorized to remain on campus or are given permission to return to campus should plan on coming back from winter break in that time.

“Public health experts anticipate the increase in COVID-19 cases to continue, driven by the Omicron variant, which we have now confirmed is already present in our campus community,” the university said.

Harvard saw its highest confirmed-case count last week since the beginning of the declared pandemic, according to the daily-student newspaper, The Harvard Crimson. Administrators sent an email informing students that contract-tracing had not found community spread in the classroom, attributing the spike to unmasked social activities.

The university said it was “strongly considering the possibility of requiring boosters,” the Crimson reported.

Cornell University, also an Ivy League school, moved its finals to virtual learning last week after a spike in Covid-19 cases on campus. Samples tested from the university identified indicators of the omicron variant.

President Joe Biden is expected to address the nation Tuesday, unveiling new steps his administration is taking to combat the omicron variant.

There’s still much unknown about the new omicron variant but scientists have found that it contains than 30 mutations to the virus’ spike proteins. Spike proteins cover the outside of the virus and are the main target of vaccines and certain treatments, such as monoclonal antibodies.

Early research suggests that this variant is more transmissible than its predecessors, its mutations likely the reason it has been able to infect even vaccinated individuals. There are no indications so far that vaccinated people who with breakthrough cases experience more severe symptoms compared to other variants.

By pauline