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Citing the need to test returning students and concerns over the Omicron variant, UC Santa Cruz told instructors in an email last week that administrators plan to start the winter 2022 quarter with two weeks of online instruction in early January. The University of California system will also mandate boosters for eligible students and staff.

Update: This story has been updated to include new guidance from UCSC about the return to campus for the winter 2022 quarter.
A week after UC Santa Cruz administrators announced that the university plans to start the winter 2022 quarter with two weeks of online, remote classes, administrators announced further guidelines for the return to campus — including a mandate for eligible students and staff to receive their booster shot by Jan. 31.

“A period of time without in-person instruction will allow time to test returning students, who will begin to return to campus on Jan. 2,” wrote Campus Provost Lori Kletzer. “In addition to this plan of creating a buffer of time for campus testing (which will involve reentry test, sequester, and a second test), we believe that limiting instruction to remote modalities in most cases is the safest plan for opening winter quarter instruction given the uncertainties of the impact of the Omicron variant.”

The winter quarter is slated to begin Jan. 3; the university plans for fully in-person classes to begin Jan. 18, after Martin Luther King Jr. Day. In a Monday, Dec. 27 letter, the school also announced testing and booster requirements for students and staff.

Kletzer and Chancellor Cynthia Larive sent out a campuswide letter Dec. 21 outlining the university’s plans and encouraging students to return to campus as scheduled — unless they test positive for the virus.

“This shift in instructional delivery will give us two weeks to identify COVID-19 cases and take appropriate measures to mitigate further spread through our campus community,” they wrote, and urged eligible students and staff members to both get a booster and get tested before returning. The university will mail a self-test kit to students who are unable to get one if they apply by noon Friday.

UCSC will expand testing in January to speed the return to campus, the letter continued, and students who are still on campus can pick up a free in-home test kit at the Bay Tree Bookstore, while supplies last, before it closes for the winter break at 4 p.m. Wednesday — noting that kits are to be used just before a return to campus.

Kits are also available to university employees at the Bay Tree Bookstore and at the reception desks at the UCSC Scotts Valley Center and the Silicon Valley Extension in Santa Clara before 3 p.m. Wednesday.

UCSC freshman Zennon Ulyate-Crow said he wasn’t entirely surprised about the news. He said he feels it was the responsible thing to do in order to allow students to get tested and prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“It’s always changing so quickly,” he said. “While not everyone wants to go online, I understand the university’s decision.”

He said he was also wary of the possibility that UCSC could extend remote instruction beyond the two weeks.

In a letter to chancellors Dec. 21, UC President Michael V. Drake characterized booster shots as a mandate and not optional.

“I am also asking each of you to communicate the critical importance of boosters to your campus community, especially at this stage of the pandemic,” he wrote, per the Los Angeles Times. “Under existing UC policy, students, faculty, and staff are required to keep their vaccination status up to date. The policy mandates COVID-19 boosters for those who are eligible.”

Chancellors were also told to come up with plans for a safe return from winter break that could include a remote-learning start as coronavirus cases increase throughout California amid the highly infectious Omicron variant; later that Tuesday, UC Irvine and UC San Diego joined UCSC in announcing a two-week delay for in-person classes to begin the new year.

Institutions including Stanford University announced similar plans last week, pushing back an in-person start and requiring students to provide proof of COVID-19 booster shots. That followed moves by some East Coast universities, including Harvard, Princeton and Cornell, which have also implemented a booster requirement.

The decision comes at a time when federal officials are raising the alarm about the Omicron variant’s rapid rise to become the dominant strain in the country. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says Omicron now makes up nearly three-quarters of COVID-19 cases nationwide.

In an address to the nation Dec. 21, President Joe Biden again urged unvaccinated Americans to get a COVID-19 shot and said his administration will order 500 million at-home tests to ship free to Americans. He also plans to mobilize 1,000 members of the military to support hospitals and set up new testing and vaccination sites in hard-hit areas.

Public health officials continue urging the public to get vaccinated, receive boosters, wear a mask while indoors, and to get tested and stay home if you’re feeling sick.

As of Dec. 20, 70.5% of Santa Cruz County residents were fully vaccinated. As of Dec. 14, 98% of UC Santa Cruz students and employees were fully vaccinated.

“We understand that this sudden shift puts an unexpected burden on instructors, and we are committed to helping you with this transition,” wrote Kletzer. “Together with other campuses in the UC system and the Bay Area, we believe that this cautious approach is a necessity given the unpredictable, rapid spread of the Omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus.”

UCSC updates return to campus instructions

In an announcement earlier this week, administrators said all students are required to get tested 48 hours before returning to campus. Students who test positive are asked to postpone their return until a healthcare provider has determined they are clear.

Kletzer’s letter to students details further instructions for different categories of students based on their living situation and vaccination status. She also distributed a letter of instructions for employees returning to work on campus.

All students and employees returning to campus are required to receive their booster by Jan. 31, if eligible. For those not eligible by that time, students and employees are required to receive their booster two weeks from their eligibility date.

After three years of reporting on public safety in Iowa, Hillary joins Lookout Santa Cruz with a curious eye toward the county’s education beat. At the Iowa City Press-Citizen, she focused on how local...