Franklin & Marshall College students wear masks while walking along Harrisburg Avenue in Lancaster on Aug. 26, 2020.

Elizabethtown and Franklin & Marshall colleges are delaying the start of in-person instruction for the spring semester as COVID-19 cases surge in Lancaster County.

In response to the increase in positive cases, Elizabethtown College pushed back the start of its spring semester by a week to Jan. 18, while F&M delayed its spring semester start date to Jan. 31 following two weeks of virtual instruction.

“The college has been monitoring the increasing infection rate of the highly contagious omicron variant, the significant rise in cases in Lancaster County, and the supply shortage in COVID tests nationwide,” F&M college administrators wrote in a statement.

F&M is operating under a “very high” alert level, which allows only essential employees on campus. Only the approximately 300 students who were unable to return home during winter break may remain on campus at this time, said Alan Caniglia, the college’s vice president for strategic initiatives and professor of economics.

“We look at a variety of indicators,” Caniglia said. “The main one that led us to go to the very high alert status a few days ago was the local conditions in Lancaster County.”

Students are required to be vaccinated and must receive booster shots within 30 days of eligibility, unless they are approved for an exemption.

Caniglia said 98% of F&M’s 2,283 students studying on campus are vaccinated and a majority of them should receive a booster shot prior to the start of in-person instruction.

Thirty new COVID-19 cases were reported at the college following Thanksgiving break, Caniglia said. Prior to that, the college was averaging one positive case per week

Caniglia said he does not expect in-person instruction to be further delayed.

“We’re very committed to in-person education,” Caniglia said, adding that omicron is likely to decrease just as rapidly as it increased in previous weeks. “On the basis of what we know, the return to in-person is pretty likely.”

Caniglia said F&M is planning for a testing protocol for returning students.

At Elizabethtown College, all students, regardless of vaccination status, must test negative for COVID-19 once they arrive on campus next week. Free tests will be administered by the college. Those who test positive cannot move in or begin in-person classes until their isolation period is completed.

Masks are required for vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals. Weekly surveillance testing must be completed by unvaccinated students and staff.

HACC, which has a campus in East Lampeter Township, is operating remotely Monday through Friday this week and will continue offering remote instruction alongside on-campus classes in the spring semester.

Millersville University plans to open with its original date for in-person instruction Jan. 18 with an emphasis on vaccinations. Face coverings will be required for fully vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals while indoors.

Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology will open with its original Jan. 19 start date. Following Center for Disease Center and Prevention recommendations for higher education, the college will require face masks and encourage vaccinations.

Lancaster Bible College posted guidelines for the spring semester on its website Wednesday. In-person instruction will begin on schedule Jan. 18. The college will not require vaccinations or masking.

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