5Cs prepare for return to campus on schedule, with potential remote start to classes

Students read pieces submitted to the AAMP Untold Stories event at the Hive.
Students explore the Untold Stories art exhibition in late November. (Emma Jensen • The Student Life)

With two weeks until the spring semester is slated to begin and the omicron variant contributing to record-breaking case counts across the United States, 5C administrators reaffirmed their intent to bring students back to campus on schedule.

All of the 5Cs are now requiring students to receive booster doses of an approved COVID-19 vaccine, with most extending that requirement to employees. Combined with enhanced mitigation measures like robust testing and flexible modes of instruction, the schools are expressing confidence that their plans will allow students to return to Claremont. 

The colleges are “considering a wide range of adaptations in the early phases of our return to campus” to promote health and safety, Claremont McKenna College Dean of Students Dianna Graves CM ’98 and Vice President for Student Affairs Sharon Basso said in a Friday update to students. 

One such adaptation may be remote instruction for the beginning of the semester. The 5C presidents will meet this week to consider the possibility, according to a Monday email from Scripps College interim President Amy Marcus-Newhall.

“This will also address the need for flexibility of our students returning to campus who are navigating airline cancellations and coronavirus infections and/or exposure,” Marcus-Newhall said.

Colleges across the country have already announced an initial switch to remote learning in response to the national surge in cases, including Los Angeles-area schools like Caltech, Loyola Marymount University and several campuses of the University of California

Some institutions, like Princeton University, Yale University and the University of Chicago, have gone further, announcing they’ll delay the beginning of academic terms and students’ returns to campus in the hopes of staving off surges on campus.

But the 5Cs don’t seem to be among them. Graves and Basso noted that a coordinated move-in will allow the consortium to begin testing quickly and establish baselines, which will inform mitigation measures like restrictions on campus activities, social gatherings and dining.

“It is likely that we will move as much food service outside as possible for the first two weeks of the semester to reduce transmission while we establish our negative test baselines,” they said.

Pitzer College Vice President for Student Affairs Sandra Vasquez said in a Dec. 17 update that students will test twice a week for the first two weeks of their return. CMC may follow that measure if its medical team recommends it, Graves and Basso said.

To reduce the risk of outbreaks in the two weeks before the semester begins, the colleges have asked many employees to work remotely. 

“This two-week shift to remote work will reduce density and allow time for the College to ramp up staff COVID-19 testing with the Omicron variant surging here in Los Angeles County and around the globe,” Pomona College COO Rob Goldberg and Chief Human Resources Officer Brenda Rushforth said in a Friday message to staff.

All employees will be required to test weekly when they return to campus, the officials said. That requirement will also apply at CMC, the school’s Chief Civil Rights Officer Nyree Gray told staff on Friday.

Marcus-Newhall said “essential on-campus workers” at Scripps will be slated for testing Tuesday or Wednesday and would have to receive a negative test result before returning to work on campus.

Los Angeles County health officials said last week that they have “no plans to advise colleges to move online,” Graves and Basso said. Even so, the 5Cs will have their work cut out for them to minimize spread and keep isolation housing open.

The schools recorded 36 positive tests the week before finals, adding at least 27 in the weeks since then, according to available data. Other institutions, like Middlebury College and Cornell University, struggled with spikes even as students began leaving for winter break. The increases have strained available resources to contact trace exposed students and care for those who fall ill.

LA County saw nearly 45,000 positive tests over the New Year’s weekend, officials said Sunday. With positivity rates exceeding 20 percent, the omicron variant’s intense transmissibility is on full display throughout Southern California and the country. 

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