UC requires COVID boosters, weighs online start in the middle of Omicron

UCLA and six Other University of California undergraduate campuses announced Tuesday that classes will begin remotely at the start of the new term, as colleges across the country grapple with plans for a safe post-holiday return winter amid an increasingly severe rise in the Omicron coronavirus variant.

Additionally, all eligible students and staff in the UC 10-campus system will be required to provide proof that they received a COVID-19 booster shot, officials announced.

“The emergence of this rapid new variant, coupled with student travel to and from campus and the prevalence of holiday gatherings, will present our campuses with a unique set of public health challenges as we begin the new year.” , UC President Michael V. Drake said in a letter to chancellors, adding that the plan “may require campuses to begin the term using distance learning to allow students to follow a testing protocol appropriate to their back on campus.

The letter to chancellors comes as a growing number of universities and colleges push back in-person instruction after the winter break, when students must return to campuses from across the state, country and the world. . Some East Coast universities have chosen to complete exams remotely; others have implemented COVID-19 reminder mandates for students and staff.

In addition to UCLA, the UC campuses that have announced a two-week delay are Irvine, Riverside, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz and San Diego; Davis announced a one-week delay. Many universities that are delaying in-person instruction have said campuses and on-campus housing will remain open.

UC Berkeley, which is on a semester schedule, starts later than most campuses and is monitoring the situation, as is UC Merced.

During UCLA’s delay, students and staff must participate in a robust coronavirus testing regimen and show proof of booster shots. All faculty and staff will be required to test once a week throughout the winter term, regardless of vaccination status, Administrative Vice Chancellor Michael J. Beck and Professor Megan McEvoy said in a statement. to the UCLA community.

“This new safety protocol will help us quickly identify the presence of COVID-19 in our community while limiting major disruptions to campus operations and reducing the risk of serious complications from COVID-19,” the statement said.

UC Irvine said its delay allows time for “thorough testing, retesting and post-winter recess sequestration,” spokeswoman Sheri Ledbetter said.

In addition to online classes for the first two weeks of term, UC Santa Cruz recommends that faculty and staff hold remote meetings and events.

UC San Diego Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla said in a statement that the school’s temporary move online anticipates “an increase that may coincide with the scheduled start of our in-person residential winter quarters.” . Campus residents may return but are asked to stagger their arrival.

Large, indoor events at UC Riverside will be banned for the first two weeks of the new term while classes will be held remotely through Jan. 17, Chancellor Kim A. Wilcox said. And UC Davis will begin remotely for at least a week to give members of the campus community time to test negative for COVID-19 before resuming in-person classes on January 10.

USC, meanwhile, announced Friday that he is considering a remote start and would likely require booster shots for the students. The university said it is monitoring rising coronavirus cases on campus, in the community and at other higher education institutions.

The California State University system said Tuesday it has no plans to walk away.

“We continue to monitor the situation, and should a pivot become necessary, campuses will be sure to communicate with their respective campus communities as soon as possible,” spokesperson Toni Moelle said.

Drake’s letter stated that booster shots are essential on UC campuses.

“I also ask each of you to communicate the critical importance of reminders to your campus community, especially at this point in the pandemic,” he wrote. “Under existing unified communications policy, students, faculty and staff are required to keep their vaccination status up to date. The policy makes COVID-19 boosters mandatory for those who are eligible.

While the recall mandate is system-wide, it is up to campuses to implement it based on local conditions. Some seemed unclear on the mandate; The UC campuses in San Diego and Merced said they recommend but do not require a booster shot. UC San Francisco, a graduate-level and professional training campus dedicated to the health sciences, said to have launched a campaign to encourage eligible students and employees to get vaccinated by January 15.

Last month, the Food and Drug Administration cleared Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech booster shots for people ages 18 and older, and on Dec. 9 expanded the guideline to include 16- and 17-year-olds.

UC student leaders have backed the idea of ​​a move to online classes at the start of the winter semester in light of the spread of the Omicron variant.

“I’m glad to see UC go online – at least temporarily,” said UC Student Assn. leader Esmeralda Quintero-Cubillan, 23, senior at the Santa Barbara campus. “I say this with remorse, as someone who thought my senior year would be in person, but for the risk to public health and the health and well-being of our community, I think it makes sense to move on. in line.”

But Quintero-Cubillan, a resident assistant, remains concerned about what the delay could mean for student housing and food security.

“I am a student who struggled with food insecurity my entire time at UC; I faced homelessness,” Quintero-Cubillan said. “I’m very scared.”

Manu Agni, student associate president at UC San Diego, was supportive of the move to online education but frustrated with the situation.

“We feel like we’ve done a great job keeping our community safe. But now Omicron and Delta cases are surging in San Diego County and California [are] causing this change, so we feel like we are suffering the consequences of someone else’s actions,” said 21-year-old Agni. “We understand it’s based on science, but it’s still sad and disappointing.”

The first semester back on campus after a months-long hiatus has been a party, Agni said. The eldest, who is studying town planning, hopes the possible two-week switch to online teaching will not drag on any longer, but understands the importance of keeping up with the science.

“The right choice isn’t always the most exciting,” Agni said.

Naomi Waters, a senior at UC Riverside, said she was relieved at the temporary shift to teaching online. She had nervously watched the reports of the spread of the Omicron variant and thought that gathering students again after the holidays would be risky.

“Honestly, I was very scared about people going back to in-person classes,” she said. “I’m definitely relieved that they take campus safety to heart.”

Waters, who majors in public policy and African American studies, said she supports requiring reminders for campus members. As a senior, she said, she no longer takes large lectures and felt safe in the only in-person class she had this term, which had about 10 students who wore masks and could each other. distance into a large room with open doors. But a reminder would help ensure greater safety for all students, she added.