Ingham County case of omicron confirmed at MSU; university mandates COVID-19 boosters

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The Sparty inside the MSU Union is equipped with a mask photographed on Monday, Aug. 17, 2020, in East Lansing.

EAST LANSING — The first case of the omicron variant in Ingham County was confirmed at Michigan State University, officials said Friday. Earlier in the day MSU's president said the university will require COVID-19 booster shots for all students and staff by next month.

Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail said the discovery of a case of the new variant in the Lansing area is not surprising.

"We know it's here," she said. "When it's in one part of the state, it's in other parts of the state. I'm sure there are many more cases of omicron here, as well."

The variant was confirmed in Kent and Genesee counties earlier this month and on Friday in Wayne, Washtenaw and Oakland counties.

MSU President Samuel Stanley Jr. announced Friday that MSU would be expanding its COVID-19 vaccine mandate to require COVID-19 booster shots for all students, faculty and staff for the spring 2022 semester, which begins Jan. 10.

The mandates are part of MSU's work to protect the campus community while continuing to offer in-person classes, according to a letter Stanley wrote to the MSU community.

"As many of you know, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last month strengthened its COVID-19 vaccine recommendations and is now strongly recommending that everyone 16 and older receive a booster shot," Stanley wrote. "This guidance, coupled with the fact that the Omicron variant has been found in Michigan and is likely at MSU, has led me to this decision."

Members of the MSU community who are fully vaccinated with a two-dose vaccine more than six months ago or a one-dose vaccine more than two months ago are eligible for a COVID-19 booster, Stanley said.

Anyone who fails to receive a booster when they become eligible will be considered "noncompliant" with MSU's vaccine mandates. At least two employees lost their jobs over MSU's vaccine mandate and at least 16 students who didn't have a valid vaccine exemption have been suspended.

Any students, faculty or staff who secured religious or medical exemptions will remain exempt from the COVID-19 booster mandate. Students who will only take online classes at MSU this spring can also request an exemption.

Stanley credited vaccinated students and staff and the university's face covering requirements for a "successful" fall semester.

"CDC data suggests COVID-19 boosters help broaden and strengthen the protection against Omicron and other variants and will be essential for continued in-person learning and operations," Stanley wrote. "We know our COVID-19 directives are working to mitigate the spread of the virus, and this is an important next step. Thank you for doing your part."

Early data indicates omicron is more transmissible than the delta variant, which is still dominant in the U.S., health officials said. At its current rate of growth, omicron could become the dominant strain in the U.S. by the start of the new year, they said.

"It's just a matter of time," said Vail, noting that it doesn't really matter which strain of the coronavirus is spreading in the community.

"We're still dealing with the same thing in terms of vaccine and treatment," she said.

Ken Palmer contributed to this report.

This article originally appeared on Lansing State Journal: MSU mandating COVID-19 boosters for students, staff