As COVID-19 cases continue to drop and vaccinations increase, Orange County has moved from the most restrictive purple tier into the red tier. This is great news and we are encouraged that these developments will help support the COVID-19 recovery and the gradual reopening of society and UCI.
Under the California Blueprint for a Safer Economy and the Guidance for Institutions of Higher Education, educational institutions are permitted to allow a modest reopening in the red tier subject to limitations. While major changes to campus operations are not expected in the red tier, we are excited for the possibility of carefully reopening certain spaces in the Spring Quarter, in a limited capacity, and with modifications.
Campus units including UCI libraries and study spaces, residential dining (Anteatery and Brandywine), retail food operations, The Hill (bookstore) and the Anteater Recreation Center will continue the current limited operations and services for the remainder of Winter Quarter. We will communicate further about reopening of these common areas as information becomes available.
While the red tier, and eventually the orange and yellow tiers, will allow for greater gathering and classroom activity, UCI will remain primarily in a remote instructional environment through the remainder of the academic year ending June 30 and Summer 2021. There will be some modest exceptions for graduate courses.
We are eager to provide opportunities for people to have greater access to the campus, and we have many people focused on ensuring this is done in a deliberate and – more important – health-conscious manner.
Workforce planning in red tier
Though campus employees who can work from home are encouraged to continue doing so through June 30, 2021, the improving conditions may lead some units to begin thinking about the return to work process. As the county transitions to the red tier, units who plan to return to campus to work, or increase the number of employees working on campus must follow the Return to Campus requirements.
The Campus Recovery Implementation Team (CRIT) is reaching out to units who have previously submitted a Return to Campus Plan to provide information on whether or not additional action is needed in relation to their approved plan.
Please be aware that increasing the occupancy and density in campus spaces means planning for additional signage, installation of plexiglass in offices or restrooms, and reviewing cleaning schedules to ensure compliance with COVID-19 safety guidelines. These efforts take time and planning to implement.
On Jan. 11, UC President Drake announced that the UC campuses would offer in-person instruction in the fall. A systemwide work group is putting together guidance for campuses. Additionally, various groups at UCI are working to safely bring people back to campus. This includes looking at increased capacity in campus housing, more student activities and a return to classroom instruction. As UCI moves toward increased reopening capacity, many factors, such as the percentage of the population vaccinated by fall, will be considered. To keep the Anteater community as healthy as possible, our approach will remain consistent with state and local public health guidelines for institutes of higher education. We expect to have more information and guidance soon.
Our goal is to have as much in-person instruction in the Fall Quarter as possible. As we move to “in-person” activities, the expectation is that we will leverage lessons learned over the last year. Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning and Dean for Undergraduate Education Michael Dennin and his team are working with the academic units to prepare for fall instruction. His recent blog post shares more about how we should think about post-pandemic instruction.
Vaccines and public safety protocols
All UCI employees are eligible for vaccination. We encourage employees to get vaccinated through any available channel as soon as possible – please do not wait for vaccine availability at UCI. You can find additional information in the March 9 campus message. The more of us who are vaccinated, the quicker the campus can safely return to an in person environment.
As society moves through the vaccination process please continue to remain vigilant of public safety protocols. You can expect that we will continue to use the mandatory daily symptom check, wear face coverings, avoid gathering in large groups, maintain 6 feet of physical distance from others and implement regular hand washing until there is other guidance from the CDC or state. These are all best practices to reduce the spread, even for those who are vaccinated or have already had COVID-19.
I am grateful for all you have done to control the spread of COVID-19 this past year. Thank you for your continued perseverance and agility as we begin the many transitions ahead. Stay safe.
Hal S. Stern, Ph.D.
Interim Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor
Chancellor’s Professor, Department of Statistics