Updated COVID-19 Protocols and Spring Quarter Return

Dear UCI Community,

As we mark the second anniversary of the campus closure early in the COVID-19 pandemic, we are pleased to share that effective Saturday, March 19, 2022, we will be adjusting COVID-19 protocols as follows:

  • Face coverings will be recommended indoors, but not required, regardless of vaccination status. Therefore, individuals should feel free to continue to wear face coverings if they desire. Face coverings are optional outdoors.
  • Randomly selected asymptomatic testing for those who are up to date with their COVID-19 vaccinations will be discontinued.
  • Reporting on the daily symptom checker will only be required when a yes response is indicated on the symptom checker.

The remainder of this message describes the reasoning behind these changes and provides additional details regarding the plans for spring quarter.

Factors supporting guidance updates

UCI is able to make these changes to COVID-19 prevention protocols due to changes in federal and state public health guidance and regulations, declining COVID-19 cases in the community and in local hospitals, and the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccinations, including boosters, at preventing infection and serious illness with COVID-19.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has updated the metrics used to determine community risk, focusing on case rates and hospital capacity. In the new CDC COVID-19 Community Level guidance that uses these metrics, Orange County is currently at the low level and the CDC guidance does not require masking in communities at the low or medium levels. The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) has updated its guidance for the use of face masks as well to align with CDC, and the Governor issued an Executive Order bringing Cal OSHA COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standards regarding masking in the workplace into alignment with CDPH guidance.

The campus and Orange County community have seen a very significant decline in reported cases since the peak of the Omicron surge in early January. The current rate is under 7 cases per 100,000 of population which is among the lowest in the state. Our campus testing positivity rate is currently under one percent. Additionally, 95% of our employees and 93% of our students have received their COVID-19 vaccine booster dose. And we know that vaccination plus booster doses provide good protection.

As case and testing positivity rates decline and vaccination and booster levels rise, less virus is circulating in the community. This, coupled with more people afforded protection from vaccine and booster doses, reduces the risk of infection when in public settings, including classrooms, thereby allowing the campus to make these changes to protocols at this time. And of course, we have learned that a high-quality mask provides additional personal protection for the wearer.

As we make these changes to COVID-19 prevention protocols, the campus will maintain a number of our prevention and surveillance efforts including daily symptom checking, COVID-19 testing available for any reason on a drop-in or appointment basis, contact tracing, and isolation and quarantine support for students. The campus has also recently added COVID-19 wastewater monitoring in some of our high-density housing areas. These strategies will give the campus the data needed to make decisions on when to tighten and loosen public health protocols.

Spring Quarter Return

Students who leave campus for spring break, regardless of vaccination status, should test 48 hours in advance of return by antigen or PCR test.

Students who are not up to date with their COVID-19 vaccines are required to take two PCR tests through campus testing sites, five days apart, with the first test within 48 hours after returning to campus. Students who are up to date with their COVID-19 vaccines are recommended to test at least once by home antigen or PCR test within 48 hours after returning to campus. Students living in on-campus housing will be able to pick up antigen test kits beginning next week in their communities to use for return to campus testing. Watch for additional communication from Student Affairs about antigen test kit distribution.

COVID-19 antigen test kits are also widely available at pharmacies and for ordering from online retailers, including additional free kits which can be ordered from the federal government. UCI will also distribute free COVID-19 antigen test kits to students and employees ahead of spring break. Details will be shared in a separate email.

In what situations will I need to wear a face covering?

Per state guidelines, face coverings are still required on public transportation such as the Anteater Express. Face coverings may also be required consistent with public health guidance for a limited duration for those who are COVID-19 positive and returning from isolation, and for those recently exposed to someone with COVID-19. Face coverings continue to be available on campus for students and employees.

Student Health Center, Counseling Center, and UCI Health properties will continue to adhere to face covering guidance for healthcare settings.

Who will be required to participate in asymptomatic COVID-19 testing?

Those who have an exception, exemption, or deferral to the UC COVID-19 Vaccine Policy, as well as those who are not in compliance with the policy, must continue to participate in weekly COVID-19 testing.

Will drop-in COVID-19 testing remain available in spring quarter?

Drop-in testing will remain available six days per week. Spring quarter PCR testing will occur in two locations: Student Center and Plaza Verde.

For the latest COVID-19 information, please continue to visit the UCI Forward website.

Thank you for your ongoing compliance with COVID-19 protocols to help with campus health and wellbeing. We wish our students the best for the end of winter quarter and a safe and healthy spring break.

Sincerely,Hal SternProvost and Executive Vice ChancellorChancellor’s Professor, Department of Statistics