Pomona says county approval of spring return ‘unlikely,’ sets sights for fall

Pomona College's Crookshank Hall behind autumnal trees
Pomona College officials are setting their sights on a fall 2021 return. (Yasmin Elqutami • The Student Life)

Pomona College administrators said Friday they plan to bring students back to campus in fall 2021, and cautioned that a return to campus in spring 2021 appears increasingly unlikely. 

Pomona has remained closed to students since March 2020 and completed an entirely remote fall semester. Officials said in December they planned to apply for a Los Angeles County Public Health waiver program, which would allow up to 10 colleges in the county to bring back up to 50 percent of their student bodies, or 500 students to campus, whichever number is fewer.

The waiver program would only be launched if daily COVID-19 cases fall below 10 per 100,000 residents, according to previous TSL reporting. But now the program appears to be on thin ice. LACDPH officials told Pomona administration that approval for a March return “is now unlikely,” according to an email to students Friday.

“This is due to the severity of the pandemic in our region, a situation that remains quite dire despite some recent improvement, and public health officials don’t expect the case count to drop enough in time,” the email, signed by nine college officials including Pomona President G. Gabrielle Starr, said.

In the same email, officials affirmed hopes of a fall 2021 return. 

“We are planning for everyone to be back at Pomona for fall semester. The campus is ready. We are ready,” the email said. 

The email, more than 1,000 words long, was a broad update on the college’s spring and fall 2021 plans. One subject header announced that Pomona will also provide new financial support for students from funds provided by Congress in the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act. Officials expect to have details available by mid-February, the email said. 

The email also touched on California’s vaccination plan, noting that education employees are in phase 1B tier one, a tier that can expect vaccinations to begin in early February. “We encourage all Pomona College faculty and staff members to get vaccinated once they become eligible and supply becomes available, and we will assist all such employees in presenting verification of their work in the education section,” the email said. 

The email also said Student Health Services is in the process to be approved to provide vaccines. But with supplies constrained, college officials said they don’t know when vaccines will arrive on campus or whether SHS will actually be given any supply. 

Instead of waiting for a campus-based vaccination clinic, administrators encouraged community members to receive a vaccination via their local health authority, if applicable and authorized to do so. An update will go out to faculty and staff next week, the email said. 

Finally, Pomona announced they would bring all furloughed workers — who have been furloughed since October, according to previous TSL reporting — back “as soon as possible” and before July 1. The return of furloughed workers is contingent on the restarting of full-time operations, Pomona spokesperson Mark Kendall told TSL.

A group of furloughed employees has already returned to assist in a community meal program. The college is also providing workers with tax-free grants to employees via a combination of CARES Act funding and philanthropy, the email said. 

The email ended with a nod to the future:

“In the course of this crisis, we have all been through a lot together. Now let’s look forward to a brighter future together.”

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