Campus Moves to Protect Students from COVID-19

Classes and finals moved online, chancellor advises students to go home through April 3

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By Haneen Zain and Elena Neale

Updated: March 13, 2020 3:22 p.m.

Illustration by Ryan Tran

UC Santa Cruz suspended all in-person classes from March 11 through April 3 after a second case of COVID-19, or coronavirus disease 2019, was confirmed in Santa Cruz County on March 9. The county declared a local emergency on March 10. 

“We are moving from containment of this virus to preparation,” said Santa Cruz Health Services Agency spokesperson Corinne Hyland. “We are really asking people to do their part to prevent the spread.” 

The virus was first detected in Wuhan, China in December 2019, and there are now cases in 122 countries. The World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic on March 11.

With 177 confirmed cases, California has the third highest number of any U.S. state at time of press, following Washington and New York. In an effort to limit cross-contamination in a region where the virus is spreading fastest, President Donald Trump announced a 30-day suspension on travel between the U.S. and Europe beginning March 13. 

A Grand Princess cruise ship was a large contributor to the influx of infections in California. The ship travelled with a total of 3,500 passengers and crew members from San Francisco to Mexico and back from Feb. 11-21.

Several people who had been on the ship tested positive for the virus after docking in San Francisco on Feb. 21, and 21 passengers who boarded the ship for a trip to Hawai’i beginning Feb. 22 tested positive for the virus on March 6, after the ship docked at an Oakland port under orders from U.S. government officials. 

As of March 10, 1,406 passengers disembarked the ship.

Illustration by Ryan Tran

COVID-19 was introduced to Santa Cruz County on March 7 after a resident who was on board the Feb. 11-21 cruise tested positive for the virus. A second case was reported in Santa Cruz on March 9 after a resident travelled to Seattle and back at the end of February and was found to have the virus. A patient tested positive and was then moved to a different county for hospitalization on March 10. A patient with connection to Rio Del Mar Elementary School tested positive for COVID-19 on March 11, which led the school to shut down for sanitization.  

Local health officials anticipate more cases will be discovered in the county soon.

UCSC Cancels In-Person Classes

Chancellor Cynthia Larive notified the campus community on March 10 that all lectures, discussion sections and seminars between March 11 and April 3 would be offered through alternative means, such as Zoom, rather than in person.

Though Larive added that certain labs and studios may still meet in person where necessary, she encouraged students to return to their permanent residence as soon as possible and remain there until April 3.

“There are currently no confirmed COVID-19 cases on the UC Santa Cruz campus,” said UCSC Director of News and Media Relations Scott Hernandez-Jason in an email. “We are prepared to take additional measures to protect our campus if and when there is a confirmed case in our campus.”

In light of reduced class time, some instructors have chosen to cancel final exams for winter quarter, while others are holding them online. Additionally, all campus events through April 3 with 50 or more expected attendees will be postponed or cancelled. The campus plans to remain open through spring break and students will be able to access housing, dining and health services during this time. 

However, if any cases are discovered on campus, the university said it’s prepared to take additional measures, which could result in closed dining halls and residential buildings. This could leave some students houseless or food insecure.

For students planning to graduate in the spring, the possibility of classes being held online for part or all of spring quarter is demoralizing.

“I am a senior so the idea of not getting to spend my last quarter in classes or on campus really upsets me,” said fourth-year Althea Knapp. 

Illustration by Ryan Tran

Study Abroad Ends Early for Some

Third-year Lexi Sim began her study abroad program through the University of California Education Abroad Program (UCEAP) in Rome at the beginning of winter quarter. On Feb. 28 she received an email from UCSC telling her she had seven days to find a flight and return to the U.S. to be eligible for a “trip interruption benefit.” Sim purchased a flight through the provided link and has since returned to her home in Santa Cruz. 

“Nobody was wearing masks [in Rome],” Sim said. “It just felt really normal. So when they told us that we had to leave it kind of just felt like a lack of closure. I had three trips that I was supposed to do still, and I didn’t get refunds from any of those.” 

Since Sim left Italy, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country has surpassed 12,400 with over 800 deaths. 

Three days before the cancellation of some UCEAP programs, New York University and Syracuse University suspended their study abroad programs. By Feb. 26 over 12 universities had done the same, but UCEAP stated programs would not be suspended.

“Other schools abroad had more of a protocol, but [UCSC] just kept saying, ‘this is a really difficult time for everyone, we weren’t prepared for coronavirus,’” Sim said. “Obviously, other institutions just had better ways of handling it, and this program has been going on for 10 years and they just didn’t.”

UCSC fourth-year Althea Knapp was studying abroad in Florence when the COVID-19 outbreak began in Italy. When the university gave students instruction to return to the U.S., Knapp decided to stay in Europe with a family member and take her original flight home. 

At time of press UCEAP has cancelled winter quarter, spring quarter and spring semester 2020 programs in China, Italy and Korea, which affected 24 UCSC students, including Sim and Knapp.

“A lot of the people in the program think that it was ridiculous of them to wait so long to cancel it, and it doesn’t appear as if we are  going to be refunded for housing or teaching and we are still required to complete all of the assignments without any instruction,” Knapp said. “Everyone who had paid for flights for other trips had to just forget about all that money, let alone the experiences they were hoping to have.”

It’s unclear whether UCEAP will provide reimbursement for program-provided housing or tuition at time of press. UCEAP will not provide compensation for apartment rental fees. 

“We are communicating directly with students, faculty and other campus constituents on any updates or cancellations so that they can plan accordingly and timely for other summer opportunities,” said UCSC Study Abroad Director Alice Michel in an email. “The closure of any program for any reason is a difficult decision, but the health, safety and wellbeing of students is our first priority.”

There are almost 1,300 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the nation at time of press.