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Seven University of California campuses announced Monday that they will start instruction online in January in response to the Omicron variant of COVID-19.

The campuses are at Davis, Irvine, Los Angeles, San Diego, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz and Riverside.

UC Santa Barbara announced on its website that “Given the uncertainties around the Omicron variant, UC Santa Barbara will begin winter quarter with two weeks of remote instruction. The quarter will begin as scheduled Monday, Jan. 3, and in-person instruction will resume Tuesday, Jan. 18, following the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day holiday, subject to reassessment of the situation early in the quarter. The decision to delay in-person teaching is related to supporting students and instructors, particularly those who either test positive over winter break and cannot travel back to campus on time, or who test positive upon arrival and need to isolate.”

Riverside’s chancellor, Kim A. Wilcox, wrote with more confidence that online instruction would be for only two weeks. He said, “On-campus classes at UC Riverside will be delivered remotely for the first two weeks of the winter quarter, with exceptions for off-campus field courses and internships that may continue to meet in-person. The quarter will begin on Jan. 3 with remote instruction, and we expect to return to our planned winter quarter modes of instruction the week of Jan. 17.”

At Davis, a shorter period is expected for online instruction, only Jan. 3 to 7.

Davis also announced a change in testing requirements. “Beyond that, although we had planned to discontinue the testing mandate for vaccinated people in mid-January, we are now going to maintain our fall-quarter requirement: testing every two weeks for those people who are fully vaccinated and testing every four days for those people who are not vaccinated,” said a letter from Gary May, the chancellor, and Mary Croughan, the provost and executive vice chancellor.

Irvine chancellor Howard Gillman tried to offer context for students. “Over the last several days, Americans experienced the impact of COVID-19’s Omicron variant in our everyday lives. ‘Saturday Night Live’ aired without an audience; NFL games were postponed; Californians were required to mask up indoors; and more of our neighbors and colleagues tested positive for COVID-19, despite high vaccination rates,” he said. “While we recognize that change is a constant in this pandemic environment, we are committed to doing all we can to maintain in-person instruction for the remainder of the academic year. At the present time, however, we know it is not prudent to return to in-person instruction immediately after winter break. Many members of our community will be traveling and gathering in the weeks before classes are scheduled to begin on January 3, increasing the risks of exposure to the virus, and the transmission of the Omicron variant is predicted to be especially intense toward the end of December and early January.”

There was no announcement from Berkeley.

Michael V. Drake, president of the University of California system, released a letter he sent to the chancellors. “Based on consultation with university leadership and public health experts, I am asking each of you to design and implement a plan for a January return to campus that mitigates public health impacts, responds to the unique circumstances facing your campus, and maintains our teaching and research operations. This plan should incorporate a test, sequester, and retest model as described in the UC Health Coordinating Committee’s guidance for returning students,” Drake wrote. “This may require campuses to begin the term using remote instruction in order to allow students to complete an appropriate testing protocol as they return to campus. Given the differences in local conditions and campus operations across the University, the length of this remote instruction period may vary from campus to campus.”

Other Colleges

University of California campuses are not the only ones taking steps to discourage students from being on campus in January.

Loyola Marymount University, in Los Angeles, announced that the first two weeks in January will be conducted online (Jan. 10 to 21) “to provide greater flexibility for our campus community to obtain boosters, confirm negative test results, and address potential health concerns related to holiday gatherings and travel.” A letter from Thomas Poon, the provost, said, “Please note that we will continue to reassess and modify our plans as circumstances develop and in alignment with guidance from public health authorities.”

Oakland University, in Michigan, announced on Facebook that “in light of the continuing spread of the COVID-19 virus, most Winter 2022 courses, including hybrid and in-person classes, will start in an online-only format on Wednesday, January 5. Classes will return to their previously scheduled delivery formats on Tuesday, January 18.”

McDaniel College, in Maryland, has shifted its January term—a three-week program that starts Jan. 4—to online instruction only. The college is also allowing only a limited number of students on campus.

The college said that courses that cannot be offered online will be canceled.

Independent studies will also be online or canceled.

Calls for Michigan to Go Online

At the University of Michigan, more than 800 faculty members and others are calling on the university to go online when classes start the first week of January.

“It seems clear that bringing students, faculty, and staff back to campus directly after a week of holiday activities that typically include numerous gatherings of friends and relatives and often take place in crowded venues is a recipe for a major COVID outbreak in the first week or two of classes,” said an open letter sent by the faculty members to President Mark Schlissel and Provost Susan Collins. “The Omicron variant is already sweeping the nation, and doubtless will pick up speed post-holidays. We would like to see UM respond proactively by making some adjustments to the winter term in advance rather than after a major outbreak has occurred.”

“The key move, we believe, is to delay in-person teaching by at least around two weeks (post-MLK day),” the letter added.

A spokeswoman for the university said, “We continue to monitor the situation and consider advice from local and national experts and compare our circumstances and approaches to those of other similar universities.”

She also noted a letter sent by Schlissel to the campus on Friday.

See also previous updates on campus plans for January here and here.

And please email any news here.

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