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How Colleges And Universities Are Rewriting Their Winter Start Plans As Omicron Cases Grow

An exterior of an older brick building at UCLA. Two towers flank the entrance, which has three arched doorways.
Since the start of January, UCLA has documented more than 1,200 new cases of COVID-19.
(Flickr)
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The omicron variant continues to trigger programming changes at California’s colleges and universities. Most UC campuses had already announced that in-person classes would start online after winter break, but as COVID-19 cases continue to climb, officials are doubling down on mitigation efforts.

University of California

Over the past several days, several undergraduate UC campuses — including in L.A., Irvine, Riverside, San Diego, Santa Cruz and Davis — announced that remote learning will take place through January. The UC campuses in Berkeley, Merced and Santa Barbara, which originally resisted going back online, have also made the switch.

Like employers across the country, some UC campuses are experiencing staffing shortages. The extension, officials said, will give infected students and employees time to recover. It will also give those who are eligible time to comply with the university system’s vaccination policy. At most campuses, students, faculty and staff are required to get booster shots by Jan. 31.

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Officials also hope that staying online for a few more weeks will prevent the spread of infection. In a Jan. 6 message to students and employees at UC Irvine, for instance, Chancellor Howard Gillman explained that the decision was in part motivated by a surge in COVID-19 cases on campus.

“Even with our consistent guidance on best practices during the holidays,” he wrote, “more than one out of 10 members of our community ... are testing positive.”

UCLA has likewise documented more than 1,200 new faculty, staff and student COVID-19 cases since the start of January, and only about 34 percent of eligible students have received their booster shots.

California State University

The CSU system, which issued a booster shot mandate just ahead of winter break, initially resisted moving in-person classes back online. Now, several campuses have made the switch. In Southern California, that includes:

  • Channel Islands
  • Dominguez Hills
  • Fullerton
  • Los Angeles
  • Long Beach
  • Northridge
  • San Bernardino
  • San Marcos
  • San Diego State
  • Cal Poly Pomona

At these sites, campus facilities — including the library and student health services — will remain open, with health protocols in place. In-person instruction is expected to resume in early February.

"Delayed in-person instruction was not what we had intended for this spring," said CSU Long Beach President Jane Close Conoley in a message to students and employees. "But the rise of the omicron variant warrants this adjustment."

Community Colleges

Things are continuing as planned last fall. The winter session started with a mix of online, hybrid and in-person classes. To date, the LACCD has made no changes to established schedules.

The district has about 230,000 students across nine campuses, including East Los Angeles College and Los Angeles Trade Tech. Students, faculty and staff are required to get COVID-19 vaccines to be on site. But the district is still seeking clarification from county and state health officials about whether that includes a booster. The board meets later this week.

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Private Universities

Private colleges and universities have followed suit.

At Loyola Marymount University and the University of Southern California, spring semester begins on Jan. 10, both with online courses. Late last week, USC announced a four-day extension to remote learning. At both campuses, in-person instruction will resume on Jan. 24. Both campuses also have a booster requirement: Jan. 24 for LMU, and Jan. 31 for USC.

Occidental College decided to delay the start of the spring semester and that the first week of classes, Jan. 24-28, will be remote. The school's booster deadline is Jan. 18. The undergraduate Claremont Colleges — which includes Pomona, Pitzer, Scripps, Claremont McKenna and Harvey Mudd — will also hold classes virtually for the first two weeks of the spring semester, with in-person instruction expected to resume on Jan. 31. At the moment, the administration has only recommended that students get booster shots.

This article was originally published on Jan. 10, 2022.

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