UC Santa Cruz announced a two-week delay of in-person instruction at the start of winter quarter, postponing the first day of in-person classes until Jan. 18.

“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,” Chancellor Cynthia Larive and Vice-Chancellor Lori Kletzer wrote in an email to the campus community on Dec. 21.

According to Larive and Kletzer’s email, other campus operations will continue as scheduled, and students are encouraged to return to campus as originally planned. 

The decision to postpone was made in the last few days, as the university told a CalMatters reporter on Dec. 16 that they were then planning to hold the first day of in-person winter instruction on Jan. 3. However, a sharp increase in the country’s COVID-19 cases, particularly in the Northeast, and an anticipated post-holiday spike forced the university to shift directions. 

“Leadership knows that students are going to be traveling over the winter break now and that they are going to be more likely to bring Omicron back to campus, so it’s understandable,” said Dr. Gail Newel, the Santa Cruz County Health Officer.

Santa Cruz County detected its first Omicron case on Dec. 21. 

At time of publication, UC San Diego, UC Irvine, and UC Riverside have all announced similar plans to shift to remote instruction for the first two weeks of the quarter. UC Davis also announced a shift to remote instruction for the first week.

UCSC instructors were notified of the change in an email on Dec. 20, the day before it was officially announced to students on Dec. 21.

Speculation about the university’s switch to remote learning spread among the UCSC community on Dec. 20, after the email to instructors was leaked on Twitter and the UCSC subreddit. Many students have been frustrated by the delay in the delivery of an official announcement. UC Student Regent and Berkeley undergraduate student Alexis Atsilvsgi Zaragoza tweeted on Dec. 21 that she has gotten news about the UC system “faster on TikTok” than in her inbox.

An email from UC President Michael Drake to campus chancellors was sent on the morning of Dec. 21, asking campuses to implement plans to mitigate public health impacts following the rise of the Omicron variant. Drake also noted that campuses could begin their term using remote instruction, but were not required to.

At time of publication, UC Berkeley has stated that their campus is continuing with plans for in-person instruction.

In accordance with UC policy, UCSC administration stated that those who are eligible for booster shots are encouraged to get it to keep their vaccination status up to date. In Drake’s email to all chancellors, he wrote that UC policy mandates booster shots across the campus communities, but did not provide a deadline for the shot to be received. 

UCSC will follow a test, sequester, and retest model as students and faculty return to campus. 

There is concern among UCSC students that this announcement is reminiscent of March 2020’s campuswide shutdown. Dr. Newel works closely with the Bay Area’s Health Officers, and said that no one is thinking about shutdowns, but also noted that there are still unknowns about the Omicron variant.

Responding to students’ anxieties about potentially going remote long-term, Newel said, “[Students] are giving themselves a buffer to see what happens when the tsunami hits.”

UCSC did not respond to City on a Hill Press’ request for comment at the time of publication.

This story is developing and will be updated.