UC Santa Cruz sign
(Via UC Santa Cruz)
Higher Ed

Move-in plans canceled for hundreds of students as COVID-19 cases rise at UCSC

Since the start of the winter quarter on Jan. 4, more on-campus students have tested positive for the virus — 25 — than throughout the fall quarter, when 14 cases were reported.

UC Santa Cruz abruptly canceled plans for hundreds more students to move into campus housing this weekend, a decision that comes amid a spike in COVID-19 cases among those already back on campus after winter break.

Even as COVID-19 cases surged in the fall, UCSC — with strict protocols and frequent testing — was able to keep a lid on the spread of the disease among the small number of students living on campus.

Lookout’s COVID Today, the latest on COVID-19 developments as they happen, is among eight Lookout initiatives documenting all aspects of the pandemic this year. For more, go to our COVID 2021 section, sign up for COVID Text Alerts and our COVID PM newsletter here, and leave feedback and ask questions at the end of this story.

Then came winter break. Since the start of the winter quarter on Jan. 4, more on-campus students have tested positive for the virus — 25 — than throughout the fall quarter, when 14 cases were reported.

More than 900 students lived on campus in the fall, with most back on campus after winter break, according to UCSC.

A group of 620 additional students was set to move onto campus Saturday. They learned Tuesday that their move-in date is indefinitely postponed.

“After assessing the continuing surge in COVID-19 cases further exacerbated by the recent winter holidays, the lengthening public health restrictions for our region, and the impact of a greater number of on-campus residents on our ability to effectively deliver medical services on the campus, we are unfortunately not able to have you live on campus at this time,” Sue Matthews, UCSC’s associate vice chancellor of colleges, housing and educational services, said in a Tuesday message to the students.

The decision came in light of the UCSC’s on-campus case status, as well as infection and hospitalization rates in Santa Cruz County and statewide, according to campus spokesman Scott Hernandez-Jason.

It comes on the heels of a similar move from Stanford University, which on Saturday canceled plans for frosh and sophomores to return to campus for the winter quarter, citing a continued case surge.

According to UCSC’s COVID-19 dashboard, 60 students are currently under quarantine — itself more than the 56 placed in quarantine or isolation throughout the fall quarter, according to a statistic shared by campus officials in December.

UCSC’s testing positivity rate is also at a peak since the start of the pandemic, according to Hernandez-Jason.

Contact tracing and other evidence suggests “nearly all” of the recent COVID-19 cases were picked up during winter break, Hernandez-Jason said Wednesday.

At UC Santa Cruz, campus leaders said Monday to expect more information in the coming weeks on how a wider in-person...

The numbers might represent a notable change for UCSC. But they don’t appear to stand out in the context of continued rapid spread of COVID-19 throughout the community and region, according to Santa Cruz County spokesman Jason Hoppin.

“We have seen cases associated with UCSC, but there’s nothing that would be considered an outbreak situation — or even out of the ordinary, or alarming, given the level of transmission in the community right now,” Hoppin said.

UCSC plans to allow more students to move into campus housing on a rolling basis “when circumstances allow, hopefully by late winter or early spring,” Matthews said in the message to student. Students no longer interested in on-campus housing are able to cancel their applications, she added.

Students were told to expect an update on campus housing plans no sooner than Feb. 15. Students with emergency needs were told to reach out to the Slug Support program.

“We recognize the disappointment and disruption students are facing,” Hernandez-Jason said via email, “and we are working to support students in whatever way we can.”