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UW eliminates mass COVID testing amidst spread of omicron

A photo Jan. 1 of the outside of Arena-Auditorium on the University of Wyoming campus in Laramie. (Briar Napier/Oil City News)

CASPER, Wyo — The University of Wyoming announced Friday that is it is changing its COVID-19 testing protocols for the spring semester amidst the the rapid spread of the Omicron variant.

Instead of requiring all students and employees to be tested for COVID-19 between January 12 and January 16, UW will offer voluntary testing for members of the campus community on those days with plans to resume weekly random-sample testing of 3 percent of the campus community on January 18.

UW said the strategy reflects the need to move from attempting to contain COVID-19 to managing the virus. 

“There’s already a good reason to believe that the virus, particularly the Omicron variant, is widespread in our community,” UW President Ed 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.“

Seidel added: “We’re making this late change in plans in response to the rapidly changing landscape caused by Omicron, which is highly transmissible but appears to cause less severe illness than previous versions of COVID-19.”

Under the testing program that resumes January 18, a weekly random sample of 3 percent of the UW community will receive emails directing them to be tested.  Employees and students can opt out of random-sample testing if they will not be on campus for the week, have been diagnosed with COVID within the last 90 days, or are sick or in quarantine. Voluntary testing will continue to be available as well.

“Based upon what we’re seeing around the country and the state, it is no longer practical to think that we’re going to contain the Omicron variant in our community,” Seidel said. “What we can do is encourage people to take actions to protect their personal health, and that of their families and friends, by mitigating the spread to the extent possible — and reducing the chance of severe illness, hospitalization and death.”

In that vein, the university said it will emphasize its current mask requirement for most indoor spaces, including encouragement of more effective masks. The university will also continue to strongly encourage vaccination and boosters.

UW said it will continue to follow Wyoming Department of Health guidance when it comes to quarantine, isolation and staying home when sick. 

“Voluntary testing also is encouraged,” UW said.

The Wyoming Department of Health provides COVID-19 case, variant, death, testing, hospital and vaccine data online. The department also shares information about how the data can be interpreted. COVID-19 safety recommendations are available from the CDC.