Gov. Gavin Newsom’s announcement about a full California reopening on June 15 didn’t scramble UC Riverside’s plans for fall 2021, but it threw in some hot sauce.
“It made us more progressive in our planning,” UCR Chancellor Kim A. Wilcox said. “If COVID-19 vaccinations continue to trend as they are, and if there isn’t a COVID-19 outbreak, campus will look more like ‘normal’ than we thought it would even a short time ago.”
In the past two weeks, UCR's COVID-19 testing lab has tested 1,921 people with no positive cases. The University of California Office of the President estimates 90% of the system's students and 85%-90% of on-site employees will be vaccinated by fall. Thus far, 86% of UCR’s employees report having received the vaccine.
The campus already had an aggressive fall instruction plan, buoyed by the January direction of UC President Michael V. Drake.
The elimination of the tiers and their mandates will have far-reaching, if nuanced, impacts throughout campus. Among other things, the colored tiers based on infection rates have significantly restricted gatherings on campus. With those restrictions gone, limited gatherings and travel will resume.
For UCR and other California college campuses, it means loosening occupancy constraints for spaces such as residence halls, libraries, and classroom spaces.
Senior Director of Housing Services Robert Brumbaugh said the university expects to offer double-occupancy rooms in residence halls, perhaps even triple-occupancy. He said mask-wearing and some social distancing is likely to continue, along with sanitizing stations and extra cleaning of “high-touch areas.”
On April 22, the UC Office of the President announced a proposed policy that would require students and employees at all UC locations to be vaccinated. The requirement would go into effect once a vaccine has full approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
The UCR School of Medicine will offer a webinar on vaccine resistance and the importance of receiving the vaccine.
UCR is exploring the option of a mobile vaccination clinic for fall, said Linda Roney, a project manager for School of Medicine Clinical Affairs and a member of the COVID Management working group, one of five committees steering UCR’s fall return. If a mobile clinic isn’t available, Roney said UCR will resume its vaccine partnership with Blue Shield.
Testing has been handled to great effect by a homegrown testing lab in UCR’s Multidisciplinary Research Building. In the fall, testing is expected to be a combination of COVID-19 testing provider Curative, health care providers, and possibly mail-at-home kits, which would be provided at no charge.
“Based on UCOP guidance, the tentative recommendation is for asymptomatic nonvaccinated employees to be tested weekly,” Roney said. She said anyone experiencing symptoms will not be tested on campus.
At a recent meeting of the Instructional Continuity working group, chairs said the campus is on target for its goal of 75%-80% of classes to be in-person. Labs have already increased up to 50% density. Library administrators said they expect to reopen by fall, and will soon announce expanded library access post-June 15.
Staff and faculty members are likely to have a more robust campus presence, though decisions on occupancy will be made at the organizational level, not campus-wide or by UCOP. In an April 15 video message to the campus community, the chancellor alluded to greater scheduling and work-from-home flexibility post-pandemic.
Environmental Health & Safety, or EH&S, and School of Medicine officials stressed the campus will continue post-June 15 to follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, California Department of Public Health, Riverside County Department of Public Health, and UCOP, including for masking, testing, and tracing infections. Up-to-date campus protocols will be available at https://facilities.ucr.edu/fs-campus-return-support-information.
“We anticipate that masking mandates will continue, daily wellness surveys will remain a requirement, and some level of physical distancing will be in play,” said EH&S director Sheila Hedayati, who noted the guiding Cal/OSHA COVID-19 Prevention Emergency Temporary Standards will likely continue beyond June 15, meaning return-to-work plans from departments will continue being required.
The Campus Return site will be continually updated in the coming months to reflect changes to fall instruction and campus operations. Those updates include meeting notes from the five working groups.