Masks, testing, parties and more: How the 5Cs plan to handle COVID-19 on campus

A sign that says "please stop and take a minute to sanitize your hands before going into the servery" on the front of a hand sanitizer dispenser.
A student sanitizes their hands at Frary Dining Hall in March 2020. As the 5Cs return to campus, new Los Angeles County guidelines are informing the consortium’s protocols in response to COVID-19. (Amy Best • The Student Life)

With athletes, RAs and other students starting to move in across the consortium, it’s official: The Claremont Colleges’ long-awaited return to campus is finally underway.

New guidance released in early August by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health sheds a light on the 5Cs’ perspectives as they begin to make plans for keeping students, faculty and staff safe during the semester. And although administrators are readily acknowledging that COVID-19 cases on campus are now all but inevitable, the county is encouraging institutions to make plans both for prevention and mitigation when cases do occur.

Masking, say the consortium and the county, will remain a key component in containing the virus.

“Given the increase in community transmission of COVID-19 and the growing presence of the more easily spread Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus, masking indoors, regardless of vaccination status, is essential to slowing the spread of COVID-19 in the community,” the guidelines advise.

On July 17, LA County’s public health department reinstated an indoor mask mandate, regardless of vaccination status, due to growing concerns regarding the Delta variant. The 5Cs have each indicated that masks will be required in all indoor spaces, including classrooms and residence halls outside of students’ individual rooms or suites. 

In an Aug. 11 message, Pitzer College said that in addition to indoor masking, students will also be expected to wear masks at larger outdoor gatherings, such as the annual club fair. Last week, Harvey Mudd College interim Dean of Students Marco Antonio Valenzuela advised students living on campus for the summer that outdoor masking is strongly encouraged unless eating or drinking.

“I encourage students to do what they are most comfortable with outside,” interim Scripps College Dean of Students Adriana di Bartolo-Beckman said in a Thursday email.

Testing will also play a greater role in virus mitigation this fall. 

The county says colleges “must ensure that all employees and students, regardless of vaccination status, have access to diagnostic testing” if they feel symptoms or have a close contact who tests positive. Tests that screen asymptomatic people “during periods of increased community transmission” are also recommended — either universally or using a random sample of subjects. 

Four of the 5Cs will now test vaccinated students weekly, with testing twice a week for the few students who remain unvaccinated, while Scripps said vaccinated students and staff will face “random and potentially limited periodic testing.” To head off potential cases as students arrive, Claremont McKenna College, Harvey Mudd, Scripps and Pitzer now require students to produce a negative test result once they arrive on campus.

Student Health Services, which has been coordinating screenings for students and faculty at several 7Cs, is offering saliva-based PCR tests at the Tranquada Student Services Center.

The colleges, which announced vaccine requirements for students earlier this year and have consistently emphasized their importance, are now touting widespread success in getting shots in arms.

More than 99 percent of Scripps students and 98 percent of CMC students have submitted documentation of completed vaccine regimens, the schools report, joined by over 90 percent of students, faculty and staff at Pomona College. 

Rates for staff across the consortium are generally in the 80s. While some schools have held back on requiring shots for employees until the FDA fully authorizes a vaccine, others have now begun putting the mandates in effect unless individuals provide a medical or religious exemption.

As orientations proceed later this month, new students will find that the traditional cross-consortium welcome parties of previous years are on hold. 

“Per 5C agreement, there will be no large 5C social events until after September 20,” Pitzer Vice President for Student Affairs Sandra Vasquez told students in a Thursday email.

5C clubs and organizations can begin meeting immediately, Vasquez added, so long as the activity is “business-related” rather than social.

Students visiting each other’s rooms will also face various restrictions. 5C students are allowed in each other’s residence halls at CMC, Pitzer and Pomona if masks are worn, while non-Claremont Colleges guests will initially be prohibited.

“Social gatherings anywhere on campus will include no more than 10 individuals,” Valenzuela, of Harvey Mudd, said.

Gatherings of 40 or more that cannot support social distancing or be held outside will need to be approved by administration, CMC President Hiram Chodosh said in a Thursday update.

Cross-campus dining is still on hold for the fall semester, although administrators say they hope to resume it in the spring.

Cases of COVID-19 in LA County have continued to increase, averaging about 3,400 cases a day this week. Claremont’s case average over the past two weeks has risen to 22 per 10,000 residents — a total of 80 new cases within city limits, according to a Los Angeles Times database. 

TSL will continue reporting on the 5Cs’ return to campus as the semester approaches. If there’s something you want us to address, let us know what’s on your mind at tsl.news/ask.

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