MIIS Classroom Door | Provided Photo
By Hannah Getahun
Alexis Garcia Rosales isn’t one of the 17 students who tested positive for COVID-19 at CSU Monterey Bay since Aug. 20, but he may have been close to getting infected.
“All my classes are in Chapman because that’s where my math department is, and I think it was the second week someone did get COVID and they were from Chapman Hall,” Rosales said. As of Sept 10, Chapman Hall has been listed as a COVID contact location four times.
Rosales’ classes are mostly on campus because the math major is a senior taking upper division courses and not classes that otherwise occupy large lecture halls with lots of students — classes now being held online. While he said he wasn’t worried about his own health, he’s seen the toll that the Delta variant has taken on others.
“I have (known) people who have gotten the vaccine and they got Delta. And they got it pretty bad, even though they were vaccinated,” Rosales said, who is vaccinated.
With Delta and other COVID-19 variances looming in the horizon, and ever-shifting recommendations from state and federal health officials aimed at keeping the pandemic at bay, thousands of students are returning to community colleges and universities throughout Monterey Bay.
While institutions of higher education in Monterey and Santa Cruz county are adhering to CDC and California Department of Public Health recommendations (masking if you’re not vaccinated, frequent hand washing, surveillance testing) every institution has the flexibility to adapt some protocols to accommodate their population needs, making them even stricter if the need arises.
And as the Delta variant and breakthrough cases become cause for concern across the country, higher education institutions with in-person instruction are adapting.
At CSUMB, most of the cases on campus thus far are breakthrough cases — cases involving students who are fully vaccinated. Amy Thomas, director for environmental health, safety and risk management, said the university has implemented indoor masking protocols for both vaccinated and unvaccinated students as a response to the Delta variant. Symptomatic students are encouraged to follow guidelines set by the university, which includes testing and isolation.
“In general everyone states they are following the hygiene rules,” Thomas wrote in an email. “But some have continued going out in public even when they may have mild symptoms and before their test results were confirmed as positive.”
As general protocol, students who test positive must isolate and their close contacts are notified. CSUMB updates the campus community through emails that provide information on the location and risk of cases on campus.
Rosales said he appreciates the university updates and feels safe with the current protocols in place. His only concern is the fact that unvaccinated on-campus students must test weekly, and vaccinated students only have to get tested if they are symptomatic or have had close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID. This practice is consistent with what other colleges and universities with vaccine mandates are doing, but, according to the school’s website, an outbreak on campus could prompt mandatory testing for everyone.
At Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, in-person classes resumed Sep. 7 for 530 students. Thirty percent of the student population at MIIS is international. Those attending in-person are required to be vaccinated by a World Health Organization approved vaccine. Ninety-two percent of students are fully vaccinated, according to the school’s dean and vice president of academic affairs, Jeff Dayton-Johnson. Among those not fully vaccinated are students who could not get the shots in their home country. Those students are learning remotely until they are fully vaccinated in the U.S.
Among the approximately 180 students studying online, Dayton-Johnson said that some may have not been able to acquire the proper documentation to travel to the U.S., while other students have opted to study online due to concerns over the Delta variant.
“We seek to be as accommodating as possible for students who are studying remotely. Remote students have varied reasons for not being in Monterey,” Dayton-Johnson wrote. This includes adapting most classes for both in-person and online formats.
Students are advised to take personal safety measures such as hand washing to prevent breakthrough COVID-19 cases. Masking is required on campus at Middlebury, but social distancing, while encouraged, is not. Campus classrooms will return to normal capacity, but the university may change this in light of COVID variants.
Local community colleges are also taking steps to ensure student safety. Cabrillo College in Aptos was one of the first community colleges in California to mandate vaccines for students. Both Monterey Peninsula College and Hartnell College in Salinas are currently looking into vaccine mandates for their students.
Vaccine mandates will most likely take effect for students in the spring 2022 semester, says Kristin Darken, director of marketing and communications at MPC.
At MPC, around 30 percent of classes are being offered in person, primarily those that are difficult to deliver online, and about 5,000 students out of the 17,855 enrolled are attending in-person at the main campus as well as its Seaside and Marina locations. COVID case rates have been low, Darken said, and she attributes that in part to limited interaction on campus.
“I think community colleges are already a little bit more protected than a four-year institution … where students are living on campus and interacting a lot more on campus,” Darken said.
None of the community colleges in Santa Cruz and Monterey counties have residence halls.
At Hartnell, there have been no cases reported across all of its campuses since instruction began Aug. 30. In total, 8,000 students are enrolled at Hartnell College, and half of classes offered are in person. Classes have been reduced to 75 percent capacity, and according to communications director Scott Faust, many of the classes chosen for in-person instruction lend themselves to physical distancing.
“Ironically some of the classes that you might think would be most needed to be in person, like our science labs, they’re still online because the nature of the instruction in that lab setting is so close together,” Faust said.
Cabrillo has 4,000 of 9,500 enrolled students participating either in-person or hybrid instruction. President Matt Wetstein estimates that 75 percent of students attending on-campus are vaccinated as of Sept. 7. Six students have tested positive on campus since in-person instruction began Aug. 23.
When it comes to monitoring the Delta variant, Wetstein said he hopes to ensure that booster shots are accessible to the campus community when they become available. If the Delta variant becomes more of an issue, the school is prepared to move fully online again.
“One thing we’ve learned from the last year and a half is you’ve got to be ready to pivot and be flexible and adaptable to change,” Wetstein said.
All three community colleges have safety measures in place, such as installing HVAC systems, hand-sanitizing stations and having indoor mask mandates. And although students can acquire mask exemptions, only a few have.
In light of the Delta variant, Cabrillo requires all students to wear masks indoors and when they cannot social distance outdoors, the college’s website says. At Hartnell, students are strongly encouraged to self-screen and report any symptoms to Titan HST, an application that determines if user-submitted symptoms require them to stay at home and get tested for COVID.
MPC encourages its professors to be flexible in accommodating COVID-related life circumstances, and student needs are dealt with on an individual basis. At Hartnell, those who feel unsafe attending in person, such as immunocompromised students, are discouraged from taking classes on campus.
Many schools have already started classes, but UC Santa Cruz is still preparing for its fall quarter. UCSC is already urging students to get vaccinated. Vaccines are mandated for students who want to engage in any on-campus activity, and the university is aiming to have 90% of students, staff and faculty fully vaccinated. Eighty percent of students and 69% of faculty had submitted proof of vaccination as of Sept 7.
Those with vaccine exemptions or those not fully vaccinated will be subject to mandatory COVID testing — weekly for residential students and twice a week for students living off campus.
Of the 1,500-plus classes that UCSC is offering for the fall quarter, 34 percent will be remote and online.
Nik Mendes is returning to campus this quarter as a residential assistant at the UCSC campus apartments. The third-year political science major is one of the soon-to-be 9,300 students in on-campus housing, roughly the equivalent of the on-campus population pre-COVID.
Mendes, who moved in on Friday, wanted to give students the same “amazing” experience with an RA that he had his first year on campus. He said that two of his classes are in-person for the fall quarter.
No on-campus student cases have been reported at UCSC since Friday, and Mendes says he hasn’t come across anyone who may be positive in his residence.
As the pandemic persists, Mendes hopes the university will encourage students to get booster shots when they’re available. The university currently engages in contact tracing, provides data on COVID testing and vaccinations, and mandates masks for all students on campus.
In campus facilities such as dorms, students are required to wear masks in common areas. Unvaccinated students must social distance and students who travel must limit interactions for 10 days. Mendes said he feels students are good about observing these requirements on campus.
“Because after all, everyone wants to be here,” Mendes said.
As an RA, Mendes will be responsible for enforcing these rules among the 40-plus residents under his supervision. And while he wants his residents to have a normal fall, engaging in on-campus life, he is aware that yet another COVID quarter is anything but normal.
“You had a year where you basically just were stuck at home, so I want to make sure we’re having a good time,” Mendes said. “But we have to do it safely.”
Ryan Loyola contributed reporting to this story.
Editor’s note: This story has been edited since it was first published to clear up some misunderstanding over numbers and dates.
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