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By Elizabeth Casillas, Jan. 25, 2022

With rising COVID-19 infection rates in Los Angeles County, Cal Poly Pomona President Soraya Coley announced Jan. 10 a shift to temporary virtual instruction beginning Jan. 22 through Feb. 12.

This announcement came 10 days after Coley assured the campus the spring semester would be proceeding in person as planned. However, during a Jan. 7 call with local colleges, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health strongly advised a delay of in-person classes to help slow community transmission according to Frances Teves, assistant vice president of the Office of Government and External Affairs and head of the Safer Return Task Force.

“Dr. Coley wanted to gather as much information as possible,” said Iris Levine, interim provost and vice president for Academic Affairs. “She wanted to confer with other presidents because we wanted to make sure we were in alignment with what was happening.”

Cal Poly Pomona was one of the last Southern California campuses to announce a delay of in-person instruction. Other nearby Cal State campuses announced virtual starts earlier. Los Angeles on Jan. 5, Long Beach on Jan. 6, and Northridge, Fullerton, and Dominguez Hills on Jan. 7. San Bernardino announced its virtual start Jan. 11.

Source: Los Angeles County Department of Public Health

According to Teves, LA County’s public health response has been driven by several factors.

The first factor in the county’s public health response has been keeping the most vulnerable communities safe. These include nursing facilities as well as homeless communities. The second factor is making sure the healthcare system is not overwhelmed.

With rising infection numbers come rising hospitalization rates. However, hospitalization rates don’t increase until two to three weeks after infection numbers have gone up. These are lagging indicators which are tracked by LA County’s public health; as of Jan. 17, 4,701 county residents are hospitalized with COVID-19.

“The third measure in our public response is protecting and reducing opportunities for community transmission,” said Teves. “We were tracking those numbers to ensure that we were making the decisions that allowed us to be thoughtful about the impact on students.”

Representatives from the county public health department met with local colleges Dec. 24, 2021, Dec. 29, 2021 and Jan. 7, where the decision to delay in-person instruction was made. The LA County hospitalization numbers were 849 on Dec. 24, 1,356 on Dec. 29 and 3,200 on Jan. 7. Since Dec. 16, positive COVID-19 cases have also increased from 4.36% to 6.01% as of Jan. 21.

According to Levine, the university will be following infection rates closely and will make changes if needed to the spring 2022 class modalities.

“The scientists have stated that they expect the surge will come through by the end of January, and then we should see a deep decline,” said Levine. “We chose the return date in line with making sure that after the surge, if people had been infected, there was enough time for them to have quarantined and gone through all the health protocols.”

According to the Student Success Central website, 37 classes will be in-person during the three-week virtual start to the semester. Eight are part of the Huntley College of Agriculture, one is from the College of Education & Integrative Studies, 21 are part of College of Letters, Arts, and Social Sciences, two are from the College of Engineering, three are with the College of Environmental Design, and two are from the College of Science.

“I’d much rather the semester be in person at this point, because I am pretty tired of the whole online stuff, but if the situation does not improve, then I guess we just have to go virtual,” said Josh Martinez, a biology student. “I feel like the university has done a good job, you know, with the emails and the whole health screener.”

In Coley’s Jan. 10 announcement, she anticipated that 70% of spring courses would be held in a face-to-face format; however, this number has changed according to Jill Hargis, interim associate vice president for Faculty Affairs: 66.6% of courses will be face-to-face, 9.2% are hybrid and 24.2% are fully online.

Cal Poly Pomona facilities such as the University Library, BRIC and Bronco Student Center will continue with their normal operating hours for the spring semester. However, COVID-19 precautions will still be in place for all students using their services. These precautions include reservations, mask-wearing and social distancing guidelines, according to Christina Gonzalez, vice president for Student Affairs.

“We want to be back in person as much as we can,” said Gonzalez. “Not just Student Affairs but faculty and staff have been planning for students to be back on campus. I think there’s anticipation, and hope, that we’ll reach the peak quickly and numbers start declining so that we can go as planned with the in-person classes and labs, and just start seeing more students on campus.”

Cal Poly Pomona’s COVID-19 testing site is located at the CLA Paseo and available for appointments or walk-ins Monday to Friday. (Courtesy of Tom Zasadzinski)

Along with the current COVID-19 guidelines put in place around campus, faculty and staff employees will need to upgrade their face covering to a medical grade or surgical masks, N95, KN95 or KF94 masks according to a Jan. 7 public health order. These upgraded masks must be always worn indoors to reduce community transmission.

Apart from an initial COVID-19 test when residents first move in, weekly testing will be required for the first three weeks of the semester. All students are able to get tested at Cal Poly Pomona’s Public Health Testing Site at the CLA Paseo.

This testing site is available to students by appointment or walk-ins Monday through Friday, and it will be accessible throughout the rest of the spring semester for CPP faculty, staff and students. Appointments can be made through MyHealthPortal.

In addition to the testing site, Cal Poly Pomona will host two COVID-19 Vaccination Pop-up Clinics the first two months of the semester which will be accessible for everyone, not just campus community members.

Only two dates, Jan. 25 and Feb. 15 have been scheduled on the University Library Patio from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. If there is enough participation, more will be scheduled later in the semester.

Cal Poly Pomona faculty, staff and students still have a Feb. 28 deadline for boosters, or six months after their second dose of Pfizer or Moderna, and two months after a Johnson & Johnson shot, whichever comes later.

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