UC campuses extend remote instruction amid Omicron surge

Amid a worsening Omicron surge, four University of California campuses announced Thursday that they are extending remote instruction to the end of January.

UC campuses at Irvine, Davis, Santa Cruz and San Diego, whose winter quarters began Jan. 3, said that rising positivity rates for coronavirus infections had compelled them to exercise extra caution and push back the start of in-person instruction to Jan. 31. Davis had planned to return to campus on Monday, while Irvine, Santa Cruz and San Diego had announced a Jan. 18 start.

In a message to the campus community Thursday night, UC Irvine Chancellor Howard Gillman said the campus positivity rate of those tested since Sunday was 13% — lower than the Orange County rate of 25% but still “simply too much disease transmission … to assume safe in-person interactions.” He said the surge in coronavirus cases created a risk of staffing shortages and students who might not be able to attend classes in person, creating a burden on faculty to create both in-person and online options.

“Restarting in-person instruction when large numbers of students may not be able to take advantage of it is not reasonable or fair to students or to the faculty who would need to accommodate students who could not attend in-person instruction through no fault of their own,” he said.

UC Santa Cruz reported that its campus positivity rate was 5% from 3,000 tests run since Sunday, the highest it has been since testing began in 2020. The campus had averaged a .47% positivity rate among 129,972 tests administered between July 14, 2020, and Jan. 6 of this year. The current 5% rate was higher than expected although it remained well below state and county rates, campus leaders said.

UC San Diego said rising coronavirus cases were creating staffing shortages and impacting the ability of students to attend classes in person. It noted that simulation models that map real cases to predicted cases currently estimate the peak of infections will occur between now and the middle of January.

A number of national public health experts have speculated the winter surge will peak sometime in January.

At UC Davis, Chancellor Gary May asked the campus community to stay in Davis during this time so as not to introduce new cases. “It’s going to be bumpy for a bit longer as Omicron impacts our community,” he said in a video message. “Again, please be patient as we determine how best to offer the education that you are here for.”

UCLA, however, announced Thursday that plans to return to in-person instruction on Jan. 18 “remain in place.”

“We are hopeful that our plans will not need to change, but we are prepared to modify them if it is in the best interest of the safety of faculty, staff and students,” campus leaders said.

Earlier Thursday, Cal State Long Beach on Thursday joined at least eight other California State University campuses in the 23-campus system that have announced delays to in-person classes. Long Beach plans to operate primarily online for its first three weeks starting Jan. 20.

Cal State Los Angeles announced its decision to go remote for the first three weeks of the semester this week. San Diego State, Sacramento State, Cal State Channel Islands, Fresno State, Cal State East Bay, Cal State San Marcos and San Francisco State have also announced a remote start, while Cal State Fullerton is currently deliberating its plans.

A number of community colleges throughout the state, including Pasadena City College, will also move classes online for the first two weeks of their semester, while others retain a mostly hybrid schedule.

Cal State Student Assn. President Isaac Alferos said student leaders are supportive of the remote start.

“It is critical that campus leaders across the system work with their student leaders to ensure an equitable rollout that centers our students first and foremost,” he said.

Times staff writer Colleen Shalby contributed to this report.

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