California colleges open fall semester with relaxed Covid rules

Credits: Erik Adams, EdSource

Students at California State University, Los Angeles return to campus after summer break.

Students at California’s public colleges and universities will begin returning to campuses this month, many of whom will be welcome back to full face-to-face classrooms, no mask mandates and few Covid-19 testing requirements. Some community colleges don’t even require students to be vaccinated.

More than two years after the pandemic, Covid-19 restrictions have eased significantly across the University of California, California State University, and the state’s 116 community college system, totaling nearly 2.5 million students. I’m here. Even as the university prepares to deal with another virus, monkeypox, it could spread to campuses.

This is in stark contrast to last fall, when indoor mask mandates were the norm at colleges and universities statewide, and many campuses routinely tested all students for the virus. Amid the threat, campuses were also preparing to move classes online as needed.

The specific protocols implemented this year vary across campuses, particularly in the 72 brick-and-mortar community college districts governed by locally elected boards. Some of these districts did not have vaccine mandates, some canceled vaccine mandates prior to the fall semester, some are ongoing, others have It will start later this month.

While system-wide vaccine mandates remain in effect at UC and CSU, many campuses in these systems no longer require students and staff to wear masks indoors and require students to be tested regularly for the virus. is gone. Fall classes start on most CSU campuses, and this week he will start on two UC campuses, Merced and Berkeley. UC’s other seven undergraduate campuses are on the quarterly calendar and will resume classes in mid-September.

The era of online classes aimed at preventing the spread of infection is over. UC and CSU are at full dormitory capacity, conduct almost all classes face-to-face, and have no plans to transition to online classes. Many community college courses are being offered remotely, but this is largely due to student demand for online instruction rather than due to Covid. Many community college students, who are typically older, often have jobs and family obligations, tell the university that they prefer distance learning.

Even campuses that require strict Covid restrictions find it difficult to maintain them properly, as doing so often goes against public health guidance.

The Contra Costa Costa Community College District, home to three colleges, had required indoor masks until this summer, but lifted that requirement ahead of the fall semester to work with the Contra Costa County Department of Public Health. decided to District spokesman Tim Leung said district officials were torn by the decision.

“There are still some students and employees who are very concerned about their health, and it is a reality that it is difficult to give an answer that satisfies everyone,” said Leong. “I think I’m the only one who needs a mask. When everyone is running to places like grocery stores and malls and there’s no mask mandate, it’s hard.”

Fewer masks, less tests

Many of the state’s other large community college districts, including Los Angeles Community College School District, Sacramento-based Los Rios Community College School District, and Fresno-based State Center Community College School District, also do not require masks. .

The same is true for many CSU campuses such as Maritime, Chico State, San Luis Obispo, and UC campuses such as Davis and UCLA, which removed their mandates on August 15th.

But just because you don’t need a mask doesn’t mean you don’t wear one. Most campuses that don’t mandate masks still strongly recommend them.At UC Riverside, students living on campus are required to wear a mask when traveling to campus housing, but after No need to wear a mask. Riverside also didn’t have a spring mask mandate, but most students still choose to wear masks around campus, said Sheila Hedayati, executive director of the campus’s environmental health and safety department. increase.

“Our students are nice and very conscientious. You can see more of the mask than the whole face,” said Hedayati.

Some universities, including UC Irvine, which reinstated its requirement last month, still require indoor masking.

In the CSU system, Long Beach is one of the campuses requiring masks indoors to start the new semester due to “continued waves of Covid-19 infections from the current dominant variant.” Dean Jane Close Connolly told Campus Community earlier this month.

Whether a student’s virus test is required also depends on where the student will be attending.

Some campuses, such as College of the Canyons in northern Los Angeles County and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, do not require testing. Other campuses, including the Community College Districts of Los Rios and State Center, require routine testing only for unvaccinated students.

Some campuses, including UC Davis and UC Irvine, require students living in campus housing to be screened upon move-in, but after that, regular screening is mandatory, except for students who have not been vaccinated in Irvine. It is not

UC Riverside has one of the more stringent testing policies in the state. In addition to weekly testing of unvaccinated students, campuses will also require testing every two weeks for students living on campus.

The easing of Covid-19 restrictions at some colleges also applies to vaccine regulations. District spokesman William Boyer said. The Orange County-based Coast He Community College District also canceled its vaccination mandate this summer.

However, some community colleges continue to require vaccinations for in-person students, such as Contra Costa, Los Rios and State Center districts.

System-wide vaccine mandates at CSU and UC are also in effect and may soon require students to get additional shots. A second booster may soon be available to college students.

Officials at UC Davis expect a second booster to be offered to students as early as next month, said Cindy Scholzman, medical director of student health and counseling services. increase. In that case, students across UC should get a booster. Schorzman added that students will likely have a grace period, but it probably won’t be long.

Back to face-to-face classes, more online at community colleges

At UC and CSU, face-to-face instruction has become standard back to school. At Chico State University, 80% of classes are held face-to-face. At San Luis Obispo, approximately 98% of courses are in-person, a 13% increase from last year. The University of California, Irvine is holding all classes in person, with the exception of a few classes being held online for academic purposes, not for virus-related reasons.

Classes were still mostly in-person last fall, but with the delta variant spreading rapidly at the time, UC and CSU campus personnel were preparing to move quickly to online classes.

Officials say it is highly unlikely that the entire system will move courses online this fall.

David Souleles, director of the Covid-19 response team at the University of California, Irvine, said: “If you look at state and local governments across the country, it’s mostly not on the agenda.”

Sean Murphy, spokesperson for Chico State University, said the campus successfully held classes last year during the Delta and Omicron surges. However, he added, “we have mechanisms in place to change the way we teach.”

Things are very different for most community colleges, offering more courses online than they did pre-pandemic. In the Los Rios district, 50% of classes are offered online, compared to 15% pre-pandemic. College of the Canyons and the Los Angeles area also have about half of their courses online.

In most cases, these universities are offering many online courses not for public health reasons, but because they indicate a student preference for remote classes. Community colleges across the state have suffered significant enrollment declines since the outbreak of the pandemic, with hundreds of thousands of students lost throughout the system. Universities are doing what they can to get their students back. This often means offering online classes that attract more enrollees than in-person classes.

At College of the Canyons, about three-quarters of students attend part-time, often “doing other things, such as working, caring for family, or both,” said a college spokesperson. One Eric Harnisch said:

“So having the flexibility to participate online is something they really appreciate,” he added. “And by bringing quite a few classes online, we give them the opportunity to actually participate.”

Monkeypox monitoring

To varying degrees, many California colleges are poised to confront monkeypox virus-positive cases on campus, and this has already happened at several colleges across the country.

Officials with campuses across the three systems said they are consulting with local health officials on plans and possible responses. Monkeypox vaccine supplies are low nationwide, but officials said they requested the vaccine as soon as it became available.

At the University of California, Davis, if a student believes they have symptoms of monkeypox, they will have a telemedicine appointment and, if necessary, be tested for the virus. If the student requires treatment, the campus plans to work with the Yolo County Public Health Department to secure that treatment. Otherwise, the student can obtain treatment through her UC Davis Health.

The experience of dealing with Covid-19 could help universities respond to monkeypox, but the virus will also present new challenges, said Souleles, an official at the University of California, Irvine. One of the main differences is that if a student catches monkeypox, the quarantine period can be much longer than required for Covid. Instead of the five to seven days of isolation required by Covid, a positive case of monkeypox could require students to quarantine for four to six weeks.

“We are trying to think about where the quarantine will be, on campus or at home, on a case-by-case basis, what it means and how it can be managed. We make sure we have a plan in place and communicate it before we return in the fall so we can understand what’s going on,” Souleles said.

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