Ryan Poon /The Highlander

On Tuesday, Jan. 5, Interim Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Thomas M. Smith sent a campus wide email announcing that spring quarter instruction would continue remotely, finalizing the 2020-21 academic year at UCR as exclusively online. The future of spring quarter instruction looked bleak as health conditions in Riverside County worsened and coronavirus cases spiked, surpassing 200,000 on Jan. 5. Hospitalizations also increased, and Riverside County once again landed in the purple tier, indicating that their ICU capacity is below 15%, the closure of nonessential businesses and a widespread order to isolate.

In light of the sharp rise of COVID-19 cases nationally, Chancellor Kim A. Wilcox sent a campus-wide announcement that stated that students who reside in campus housing who engage in “unmasked activity” are required to self-isolate for 14 days and, depending on the type of housing, must undergo COVID-19 testing once to twice a week. Similar orders were handed to essential employees approved to work on campus. Despite the measures and the statewide closure on Dec. 7 issued by California Governor Gavin Newsom, coronavirus cases at UCR spiked from 77 in November 2020 to 105 in December. At the time of writing, there have been 12 new cases at UCR, most of which are staff members. There are currently 24 active cases, i.e., positive cases that are 14 days from the date of reported symptoms. 

In the broader Riverside County, the situation is much more grim. Riverside County has declared COVID-19 a widespread county risk, with 204,327 confirmed cases and 2,189 deaths as of Thursday, Jan. 7. There is a 0% ICU bed availability within the county. In a data compilation by the Los Angeles Times, Riverside County averaged 3,346 new cases a day and 28.6 new deaths over the first week of the new year.

Although Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccine received emergency authorization from the FDA on Dec. 11, 2020, it seems like the campus will remain a ghost town for the foreseeable future. While the two-part vaccine has an efficacy rate of over 94%, Public Health Director Kim Saruwatari said that only half of Riverside County’s hospital workers are accepting the COVID-19 vaccine. While the state continues to distribute vaccines according to the recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices and the campus is under remote instruction, students and instructors interested in in-person teaching must undergo a process with administration. According to Smith’s email, indoor lectures are completely prohibited until the campus exits Phase 2 operations. Only courses that require a specialized indoor setting, like studio arts or labs, are permitted if physical distancing is in place. Although the hope for returning to campus may seem impossible, the Office of the Provost is accepting requests for approval for spring quarter classes if there are exceptional circumstances.