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UC Irvine to open campus partially in July; full return slated for September

Megan Garcia-Curran smiles at UC Irvine School of Medicine class of 2020 commencement ceremony.
Megan Garcia-Curran can’t hide her smile at the UC Irvine School of Medicine class of 2020 drive-through commencement ceremony on May 30, 2020.
(Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

It’s been more than a year since UC Irvine closed last March and both students and professors swiftly transitioned to online courses, but they’ll be able to return to the university as early as July in a phased back-to-campus plan.

“Our next chapter will focus on the needs of our community, utilizing innovative solutions to create a UCI experience that is more satisfying, productive and supportive,” said Chancellor Howard Gillman in a statement released Tuesday announcing the return.

“During the coming days and months, continuing through the summer in preparation for fall, we will be releasing more information about our next steps,” said Gillman. “Some of the plans build on our pandemic experiences, such as a hybrid workplace and flexible coursework, while others may be completely new. The common thread is that our new day will be designed collectively for our campus community and our stakeholders.”

The transition will take place throughout the summer with the hope, campus officials said, of a fully operational campus by September — but that assumes a significant portion of the university’s population is vaccinated by the fall.

Asymptomatic testing is expected to be required of those who are not vaccinated and who participate in athletics or other group activities. Daily symptom and symptomatic testing will continue for students, faculty and staff.

As cases of the coronavirus decline, schools are starting to reopen their campuses. But Dalton Salvo, a UC Irvine PhD candidate, believes remote learning will continue to evolve and play an important role in the future.

Campus spokeswoman Sheri Ledbetter said the university is not currently requiring vaccinations but that students and faculty are being strongly encouraged to receive them when they are available.

“At this time, we are looking at the possibility of exempting fully vaccinated students from asymptomatic testing,” she added.

To that end, the university pivoted its contact tracing team to become what the university is calling the contact tracing and vaccine navigation services. Ledbetter said the team will be conducting proactive outreach to let people know they are qualified to receive a vaccine — as of April 15 in California — and how to navigate the system to get one. Outreach already concluded with those that the team contact traced throughout the last year.

Starting this week, the team will begin to reach out to those in graduate and on-campus housing — limited to single units in the last academic year — before eventually calling all 37,013 students attending UCI. They will then move on to the newest class of undergraduates enrolling this fall.

“It’s a goodwill call. ‘How are you doing? Are you vaccinated? Did you know that you’re eligible? Do you know how to get one?’” said Ledbetter. “They’re hearing really good feedback.”

Campus officials said they believe face masks and social distancing will still be necessary in the months to come. Ledbetter said the university will be flexible and receptive to guidance provided by public health agencies.

“The last thing we want to do is go backwards, so we’re being very deliberate about going forward,” said Ledbetter.

The fall quarter will begin on Sept. 20 and teaching will be primarily in-person on campus, but some professors will also be offering remote and hybrid options as necessary. Students who cannot be on campus will be accommodated by the university’s division of Teaching Excellence and Innovation.

“We look forward to welcoming back residential students at nearly full capacity for the fall quarter,” said Hal Stern, the provost and executive vice chancellor in a statement. Stern added that students will be receiving additional details on housing options and other information on the back-to-campus plan in the near future.

The plans will not affect graduation ceremonies in June, which will continue virtually as previously announced.

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