Public Health drafts pathway to in-person instruction for higher education

FILE PHOTO A line forms outside the Student Center during the College of the Canyons Welcome Day event at College of the Canyons Valencia campus on a Friday in 2019. Dan Watson/The Signal
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Institutions of higher education in Los Angeles County must remain closed for in-person instruction until further notice from state public health officials, but the county recently released draft guidelines for when that time comes. 

While Gov. Gavin Newsom announced in mid-July that only counties off of Califiornia’s COVID-19 watch list can reopen K-12 classrooms in the fall, the state Department of Public Health has yet to say how colleges and universities can reopen — but L.A. County officials believe the state may soon issue protocols. 

“Although we’re not certain here in L.A. County when colleges and universities can reopen for campus learning and for campus dorm life because we’re waiting for the state to issue their guidance and directives, we do anticipate that the state might distinguish, as was the case with K-12 schools, permissible activities that can happen at institutions and counties with high rates of community transmission, compared to activities that can happen on campuses in counties with low rates of transmission,” county Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said on Wednesday during a live broadcast. 

The announcement comes as Ferrer also said Public Health is investigating COVID-19 outbreaks at USC among three fraternities and a group of graduate students, as well as with a number of UCLA football players who had returned to campus and tested positive. She also mentioned that nearly 60% of new diagnoses occur in residents between 18- to 49-year-olds. 

The draft, issued July 28, includes several similar protocols businesses such as restaurants, offices and retail stores must comply with, such as notifying all employees and students to stay home if they are sick or have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, screen staff and students for symptoms, workstations must be at least 6 feet apart and that face coverings are worn. 

Protocols also include that students who return from outside the U.S. quarantine for 14 days, daily screenings for students living on campus and limiting the number of people within any indoor room on campus, such as having a maximum of 50% of total occupancy in classrooms. 

Scheduled meal times or meal pickup times, hybrid class options and halting or reducing access to furniture in community areas are also included in the guidelines. Collegiate sports guidelines are currently underway, according to Public Health. 

The county’s Public Health Department has urged colleges and universities “to have plans in place to continue with distance learning if needed,” according to the draft health order. 

At College of the Canyons and California Institute of the Arts, officials said Wednesday plans for the fall semester are already in place for an approach that is mostly remote, with some hybrid and in-person options for lab- or studio-based work. 

“This change is difficult for us all, but the health and safety of our community must be our first priority,” CalArts President Ravi Rajan said in a previous statement. 

“We’re counting on the guidance from the county and state to inform our plans,” said COC spokesman Eric Harnish. “We are offering about 1,950 classes for the fall and the vast majority will be delivered in an online format. The state has identified essential infrastructure sectors where in-person instruction is allowed to facilitate training and ensure that there are qualified people moving into the workforce.” 

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