Two cases of the omicron variant of COVID-19 have been reported at Keene State College, President Melinda Treadwell announced.
In a written message to the Keene State community on Tuesday, Treadwell said the cases were detected in last week’s surveillance testing.
“I am sharing this so that individuals can be aware and so that we can adapt as a community to the evolving challenges of COVID-19,” she said in the letter, adding that the college’s protocols — which include masking and weekly testing — will remain as they are.
The omicron variant was first detected in specimens collected last month in Botswana and South Africa, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The variant has since been detected across the U.S., and while omicron is likely to spread more easily than the original coronavirus strain, it’s not yet clear how it compares to the delta variant.
Current vaccines are expected to protect against severe illness and death due to infection with the omicron variant, according to the CDC, but breakthrough infections are still possible.
On Monday, the state health department announced a Cheshire County adult was the first New Hampshire resident to have a confirmed omicron case. That case doesn’t appear to be tied to the Keene State community, Treadwell said.
The college shares COVID data with the state weekly, according to Mary Beth “MB” Lufkin, vice president for enrollment and student engagement.
Treadwell’s announcement came the day after the college reported 27 new coronavirus cases, the second-highest weekly total this semester, according to Keene State’s COVID-19 dashboard. (There were also 27 cases reported the week of Halloween.) Twenty-eight cases were reported the previous week.
As of Dec. 12, there were 32 active COVID-19 cases at the college: 28 among students and four among staff.
So far this week, the college has conducted more than 1,000 tests, revealing another four cases, according to Lufkin. The administration has not learned yet whether this week’s cases are of the omicron variant.
As the semester will end Friday, the college invited students and staff to be tested a second time in addition to the regular weekly surveillance testing, Lufkin said.
“The overall goal is to ensure that as individuals depart from the fall semester, they know their status and return home safely for the semester break,” she said in an email.
Over the next few weeks, Keene State will continue monitoring data and will adjust operations accordingly, Lufkin said.
Ahead of the spring semester, everyone in the Keene Sate community — which has about 3,100 students and 630 staff — will be required to participate in surveillance testing before classes begin Jan. 18, Lufkin said.
Keene State has been working with the University of New Hampshire to monitor and analyze tests, Treadwell said in her letter. It’s a partnership that has allowed the college to receive results faster than in the spring of 2021.
All specimens are being sequenced in the UNH lab to detect the omicron variant, Lufkin said.
As of Dec. 13, 78 percent of Keene State staff and students had reported being vaccinated, according to the college’s COVID-19 matrix.
COVID cases across the state have been surging. On Wednesday, the state reported 1,098 new positive test results from the previous day, 8,982 known current cases, 475 people hospitalized with COVID-19 and seven additional deaths, bringing the total to 1,817.
In her letter, Treadwell stressed the importance of following health protocols and getting vaccinated if eligible.
“Your tireless vigilance to our masking and distancing requirements and adherence to our comprehensive surveillance requirements have been essential,” she said. “... Our positive case counts, although elevated these past two weeks, have been lower than our spring 2021 experiences and not increasing like our surroundings.”