As of Friday Feb. 26 there are 14,628 cases of COVID-19 in Santa Cruz County, including 183 deaths and 13,998 recovered. For updated information on vaccine eligibility, please check the Santa Cruz County Health Services Agency (HSA) website. 

As of Friday Feb. 26, UC Santa Cruz test results have a 0.49 percent positivity rate. Six students are in quarantine and 12 are in isolation. For more information, please visit UCSC’s Tracking COVID-19 website

Amid a continued vaccine shortage, planning for the 2021-22 academic year is underway at UC Santa Cruz. 

Members of the COVID-19 Operations and Employee Recovery and Resiliency Task Force held a public forum on Feb. 12 to update the UCSC community on vaccination progress and announce the framework guiding the campus’ reopening for fall 2021. 

Due to the unpredictable nature of the pandemic, this framework is subject to change. 

Vice Chancellor of Business and Administrative Services Sarah Latham, who chairs the task force, says UCSC will continue to adhere to COVID-19 guidelines as mandated by relevant authorities. This will include the use of face coverings, social distancing, cleaning protocols, and asymptomatic testing. Latham said she hopes as many affiliates as possible will be vaccinated by fall to facilitate re-opening, but that the pandemic will not be eradicated by then.

Preliminary Housing Planning

Officials do not expect to be able to accommodate all students who wish to live on campus in fall 2021. The current plan is to use roughly two-thirds of housing capacity.

About 1,000 students currently live on campus, after winter 2021 move-in was postponed for some 600 students following the holiday spike in cases. 

UCSC housed approximately 9,000 students on campus before the pandemic, but this fall roughly 6,000 students will be allowed on campus. UCSC will also provide additional quarantine facilities to accommodate the fall increase of on-campus students, UCSC Director of News and Media Relations Scott Hernandez-Jason said. The buildings that will be used have not been determined yet.

During the current school year, UCSC has been monitoring student housing needs in order to prioritize students who require better living situations to help them complete their degrees. 

“Some of the reasons were that [students] lived in an area that wasn’t conducive to learning, whether it’s a crowded house or an area without strong internet,” Hernandez-Jason said. “We recognize housing as a critical component of a student’s success.” 

Preliminary Academic Planning

To accommodate the needs of all students, officials are planning on providing both fully remote and fully in-person learning options for students. This will allow flexibility for students, staff, and faculty to plan accordingly.

At the public forum, Vice Provost of Academic Affairs Herbie Lee said instructors will be encouraged to design classes for either in-person or remote learning, but are discouraged from providing hybrid in-person and remote courses.

“Pedagogical research shows that [hybrid teaching] is difficult for the instructor and is not a good learning experience for students,” Lee said. “As a result, some courses may have two offerings, one in-person and one remote.” 

Current planning projects in-person courses to have a maximum of 50 percent classroom capacity, with larger lectures remaining virtual. 

Hernandez-Jason claims student interest in returning to in-person instruction this fall varies — some are eager to return to a fully in-person learning environment, while many are wary of COVID-19 lurking around campus. 

“For both sides, we want to make sure that [instructors] have the tools and support they need, and that students are receiving high quality education,” Hernandez-Jason said. “There will be a lot more opportunities for different ways of learning in the year ahead.”

To be able to accommodate both, Information and Technology Services (ITS) is working to install recording equipment for lectures in all classrooms. The task force is also collaborating with Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) to conduct a comprehensive review of all air-handling systems. Any systems identified as inefficient will be modified to provide adequate filtration and ventilation. 

The COVID-19 Recovery Task Force are strongly encouraging students, staff, and faculty to remain flexible and patient, as planning is contingent on the pandemic, vaccination progress, and local, state, and national guidance.

Vaccination policies are determined by the UC Office of the President (UCOP) and UC Health for all campuses. The vaccination policy currently in place only applies to personnel, including all staff, faculty, and student-workers, who can opt in or out of being vaccinated after receiving information about the vaccine. Additionally, personnel who refuse the vaccine must sign a waiver indicating their reason – medical conditions, or religious or personal beliefs – and must continue to comply with COVID-19 mitigation efforts like mask-wearing, social distancing, and asymptomatic testing. 

No vaccination policy has been announced for students yet, though UCOP Senior Communications Strategist Stett Holbrook said in an email that UCOP does not anticipate making the vaccine mandatory for students at this time. However, Holbrook added that UCOP strongly recommends everyone be vaccinated when the opportunity arises.

Holbrook was unable to provide a timeline for when a student vaccination policy will be determined.

Vaccination Progress and Future Planning

Between early January and Feb. 15, UCSC had been receiving 200 doses per week of the Moderna vaccine through UC Health, which provides vaccine allocations for all UC campuses. 

These were enough to give both doses to the nearly 200 individuals in Phase 1A, who are healthcare workers and Molecular Diagnostic Lab staff, and first doses to many individuals in Phase 1B, including dining hall workers, custodial workers, on-site educators, and emergency personnel.

About 2,000 UCSC affiliates are eligible in Phase 1B, and about 800 have been vaccinated at this time. Student Health Center Medical Director Dr. Elizabeth Miller expects Phase 1B to take several months to be completed.

Due to vaccine shortages, UC Health stopped the 200 dose per week allocation to UCSC on Feb. 15, and is focusing its efforts on universities with larger medical centers that can vaccinate large numbers of individuals instead. It is unclear when or if these allocations will resume.

Eligibility is divided into three groups based on state and local guidance. Group 1 includes all personnel and students over 65 years old, Group 2 includes onsite food and agriculture workers, childcare workers, and emergency services, and Group 3 includes any on-site workers outside Groups 1 and 2, such as custodial workers and on-site educators. All groups have begun receiving their first doses.

As a result, UCSC is currently planning with the Santa Cruz Health Services Agency (HSA) to receive vaccine allocations. Public Information Officer Corine Hyland said HSA has already given UCSC a one-time allocation of 400 Pfizer vaccines, and hopes to provide more in the future, though this is contingent on HSA’s vaccine supply.

“We are in ongoing partnerships with providers to make sure nobody is running out of vaccine supply,” Hyland said. “Giving UCSC vaccines helps [our efforts] as they vaccinate their eligible staff.”

As vaccine supplies remain limited at UCSC, campus officials are encouraging affiliates to get vaccinated elsewhere if possible. 

“We continue to encourage people to get their doses using the earliest opportunity available to them,” Latham said. “Remember that [other providers] have the same restrictions and supply chain issues that the UC is experiencing.”

Quarantining at The Village

Off-campus and on-campus students who test positive or are exposed to COVID-19 are eligible to quarantine on campus. Positive or exposed students are isolated at The Village, and each is provided with free meals and snacks, thermometers, and oxygen checks. There is also daily communication and check-ins with nurses who provide medication and medical check-ups. Career staff members from their college provide emotional support and resources as part of a buddy program.

“It’s hard to stay in a room by [yourself] for 10-14 days,” Dr. Miller said. “It can be lonely, isolating, and scary but everybody has been very cooperative and taken it seriously.” 

Dr. Miller’s description rang true for a third-year student who wished to remain anonymous. 

The student tested positive after visiting their family in Southern California over Thanksgiving break. Though they live off campus, they were eligible to quarantine at The Village to protect their housemates, two of whom tested positive but opted to stay off campus. The student quarantined for 11 days until testing negative.

“Overall, it wasn’t that bad,” the student said. “[The university] gave me a lot of resources and that was great, but [having to handle COVID-19 alone] is just scary. The Village is really isolated, and dark and cold at night.”

Though the student was provided with a space heater and blanket, their housemates brought them additional blankets to stay warm.

With the additional caveat of being quarantined during Week 10, the student said they kept busy by studying for final exams and talking to their friends. 

Regarding resources, the student added that nurses from the health center were supportive in addressing their needs – such as delivering medicine within an hour when they requested it, or providing a medical check-up when the student had significant chest pains. 

“It’s different for everyone but it was really hard for me, just being away from my housemates, my house, my things,” the student said. “[People should] use the resources because I think that I didn’t realize how much help I could get when I was there. It’s a super isolating time so having [a staff buddy] that knows what’s going on and you can talk to is really helpful.”

Resources for Students and New Opportunities

UCSC has opened two study centers to provide students with quiet and isolated study spaces. The Stevenson Event Center is open Monday to Friday from 8am to 10pm, and the Science and Engineering Library is open Monday to Friday from 10am to 5pm. Both are only available by reservations, which can be done on their respective websites.

UCSC has opened two study centers this winter to provide students with quiet and isolated study spaces. Provided case rates remain low, Hernandez-Jason said more study locations may open this fall.

“As we contemplate having more students on campus, we also recognize the importance of being able to find quiet spaces to study for students,” Hernandez-Jason said. “We want to make sure that if we are able to support that, we are doing it in a way that minimizes the spread of the virus, and generally is supporting the overall health and well being of our community.”

Whether on-campus businesses choose to open, while accommodating county health and safety protocol, is up to them, Hernandez-Jason said. 

UCSC received a record 74,000 applications from first-year and transfer students for the 2021-22 academic year, an 11 percent increase from the previous year, Hernandez-Jason said. This hike in applications may not translate to increased enrollment, he added.

“We all recognize the value that can come with in-person instruction. Having in-person conversations, discussions, debates and collaboration is so important for students,” Hernandez-Jason said. “But there’s a lot of new opportunities that have been created because of this terrible pandemic. It would be smart of us to think of how we can make the most of it, and not think that we should be [returning] to something just because it’s the way things were always done.”