Happy New Year and welcome to Spring semester, Saddleback students!
I regret that our kickoff for the new semester coincides with the peak of yet another Covid wave, but I am hopeful that this will be our last big wave before we transition from pandemic to endemic. Keep your fingers crossed!
While about half of you have registered for one or more face-to-face classes this semester, we are going to run most of those online for the first few weeks of the semester (until February 7)—or longer if the brunt of the Omicron wave has not passed by then. This doesn’t mean that the start of your class has been delayed until Feb 7; it means that your class meetings will start out online and then return to campus when the risk of transmission isn’t so extreme. Some of those classes scheduled face-to-face will start as scheduled, particularly those lab or activity classes where we don’t believe hands-on learning can be achieved if virtual for the first few weeks. Watch for other correspondence and check your Canvas shells to find out if your classes scheduled to meet face-to-face this semester will be starting face-to-face on Jan 18 or will be remote until Feb 7.
The purpose of bringing only about a third of the face-to-face classes during the next few weeks and holding the others remote during that time is to lower the risk of transmission on our campus for those students and employees who absolutely need to be there because of hands-on learning requirements of those classes. Similarly, we will have enough employees on campus to serve the students on campus, but most of us are working remotely for the next few weeks—to increase safety for those who need to be working on campus. All student supports and services will continue to be offered online, whether you are taking on-ground or online classes. Additionally, those students back on campus for their classes will have students supports and services available on campus.
For the few thousand of you who will be returning to campus starting on Jan 18 and the other seven thousand or so who will be returning to campus on Feb 7, we have protocols in place to keep you safe, including some new ones.
- You must be masked at all times when indoors—no exceptions for walking through halls or upon entering or exiting indoor spaces. You must have a mask on when you enter a building and keep it on until you leave the building. Masks must be medical grade (a surgical mask or N or KN 94 or 95). We have free surgical masks available all over campus. Take a box! We have plenty! During this extreme Omicron wave, we ask you to consider double masking with a tighter cloth mask over a surgical mask. Some studies suggest that this affords a similar level of protection to expensive and sometimes difficult-to-find N95 masks. Unfortunately, you can no longer wear a simple cloth mask alone. If you wear a cloth mask at all, it needs to be over a surgical mask. Got it? We will all be calling out folks wearing their masks too loosely or pulled down below their nose. This is Omicron. We all must stick together to keep each other safe. Masking doesn’t only protect you; it protects you if you are carrying asymptomatic or barely symptomatic disease, which is a common presentation for Omicron in fully vaccinated individuals.
- We have upped our level of ventilation and filtration in all indoor spaces. These indoor climate improvements reduce risk, but do not compare to mask-wearing. During this high-risk Omicron wave, we will not allow eating indoors, as that requires removal of masks. We will have lots of furniture set up outside, and, hopefully, the weather will be good.
- This is our first semester with vaccine requirements. When you return to campus, 98% of your peers and our employees will be fully vaccinated, and the remaining 2% (those with approved medical or religious exemptions) will be testing twice weekly to help keep everybody safe. Those who have not met vaccine requirements or who have exemptions but fail to comply with testing requirements will be disenrolled. We are not relying on an “honor” system. Safety first.
- If you develop Covid or symptoms of Covid while attending on-campus classes, please do not come to campus. Contact the Student Health and Wellness Center at 949.582.4606 and let your instructor know that you will be absent. The Student Health and Wellness Center will follow-up with you to help isolate your contacts on campus, using the latest protocols, so that we can prevent outbreaks.
Of course, one of the most important things we can all do to reduce risk for those on campus is to limit our individual risk-taking when off campus. We want to make our campus one of the safest places to be during this wave and doing so requires us all to reduce the risks we take when off campus. At this point, the average person who catches Omicron will pass it on two people. You may not be at high risk for severe disease, but one of the two folks to whom you pass it might be, and you may never know who they are or how you gave it to them.
Finally, I thank you for your persistence, your help, and your patience in helping us navigate this pandemic as a college and as a community. I am confident that we will emerge from this together, hopefully soon, and return to a campus we love and peers and Instructors that we miss. Soon.
Dr. Elliot Stern
President, Saddleback College