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UCLA sharply scales back reopening plans under strict county rules

A lone jogger runs past Royce Hall on a nearly empty UCLA campus in Los Angeles on Aug. 13, 2020
A lone jogger runs past Royce Hall on a nearly empty UCLA campus in August.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

UCLA will sharply limit on-campus housing and in-person classes this fall, further scaling down its reopening plans to comply with strict Los Angeles County public health rules on controlling the COVID-19 pandemic, the university announced Friday.

The new county rules, which supersede less strict state guidance, have upended more expansive plans at UCLA, as well as at USC, Harvey Mudd and other local colleges. L.A. public health officials have said that colleges and universities need to limit campus activities in the near term because high community transmission rates are driven, in part, by younger people ages 18 to 30 years old, who currently account for 25% to 30% of new infections.

As the coronavirus crisis deepened over the summer, UCLA successively scaled back plans to hold in-person meetings — from up to 20% of courses in June to 8% earlier this month, including those involving labs, clinical health and studio art and performance. Now, however, nearly all classes will be held remotely when the fall quarter begins Sept. 28 under county rules that allow in-person meetings only when lessons cannot be delivered remotely and only in courses that offer “essential workforce” training in such areas as health and medicine, emergency services, social work, the sciences and engineering.

The Westwood campus also had hoped to bring back as many as 6,500 students to campus housing. But L.A. County officials have ordered campuses to house only students who have no “feasible alternative.”

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At UCLA, those students would include those whose current housing is not safe or appropriate or does not provide sufficient accommodations required under the American Disabilities Act. Student-athletes participating in on-campus training and conditioning and those taking essential workforce classes who lack alternative housing also will be eligible for campus dorms.

It was not immediately clear how many students would qualify under the new county rules. Those who can’t return to university housing will receive a full refund, UCLA said.

“I am sure you share in my disappointment at our inability to bring more students back to campus,” Provost Emily A. Carter said in a message to the campus community Friday. “At the same time, the virus continues to pose a significant threat, and mitigating health risks to our community must always be our overriding concern in any decision we make.”

UCLA is also recommending that newly admitted international students stay in their home countries unless they are required by their field of study to enroll in one of the in-person essential workforce courses. They will still be able to enroll for fall quarter remote instruction.

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Under recently enacted federal policies, international students must take at least one in-person class to qualify for educational visas. The Trump administration subsequently removed that requirement for continuing students, many of whom have stayed in the U.S. during the pandemic, but retained it for new students.

“Unfortunately, with the new, tighter restrictions on in-person instruction, most of these students will not meet the legal criteria for travel to the U.S nor have the ability to lawfully remain in the country,” Carter said.

Last fall, UCLA enrolled about 6,800 international students, 15% of total enrollment.


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