As Long Beach State anticipates its return to in-person learning this fall, administration confirmed that the university cannot require students or staff to get the COVID-19 vaccine under California law.
While strongly encouraging vaccination, officials are still in the process of working toward safely repopulating the campus to avoid spreading the virus come fall 2021.
“We aren’t allowed to do it by law,” President Jane Close Conoley said. “The vaccines are licensed under an emergency certification and, by law, you can’t mandate an emergency-approved vaccine. If that wasn’t the case, I would like to mandate it and just handle exceptions as they might come.”
However, students that have been vaccinated may receive priority for student housing next semester.
“We can’t require vaccines but, for students that want to come live on campus, there will be a priority system that if you can prove you have been vaccinated, you would kinda go to the top of the list,” Conoley said. “That can be a big advantage because often there is a waiting list, but I don’t know if that will be true in the fall.”
Corry Colonna, executive director of Housing and Residential Life, stated that a priority housing list is dependent on certain factors, one of which being whether a student has been vaccinated.
“If and only if the vaccines become readily available for traditional-aged students in time for them to get their vaccine before move in, we will use vaccination status as a factor in prioritizing housing,” Colonna said in an email. “Every day, we hear good news about vaccine availability.”
Vaccination status will be considered along with other factors such as application date and service fee payment.
Colonna hopes that with this plan, the dorms can maintain 80% occupancy for the fall 2021 semester instead of the 7% occupancy this spring.
Regardless of the number of students living on campus, “an aggressive ongoing testing plan” will be continuing, “and students will be required to wear masks in public spaces and, when possible, distance physically,” according to Colonna.
There are also plans in place in the event that a resident becomes infected while living in the dorms.
Even though vaccination cannot be enforced, the university is continuing to encourage the campus community to receive the vaccine and make it accessible for those who are interested.
Currently, only certain members of the CSULB community are eligible to receive the vaccine. According to Conoley, the university hopes to start vaccinating students by May.
Planning for the fall semester has been in “limbo,” Conoley said, as campus officials discuss how to safely bring students, staff and faculty back to campus. She said decisions should be finalized by May 15.
“The goal is to be as back to normal as possible, but we don’t have a way to know what it will be like six weeks from now,” Conoley said.
The student body will receive more details regarding the fall semester once registration begins, according to Jeff Cook, associate vice president for strategic communications.
“We anticipate releasing [information] the week of March 15 since registration begins April 5. Intensive planning is underway now,” Cook said in an email. “We will offer our campus an update about our 2021-22 outlook at that time.”
Conoley hopes to expand the number of classes available in the fall for in-person instruction, with a small number held on campus during the summer to test the university’s safety precautions. This spring, only 108 course sections were held with a face-to-face component.
“We are really looking at the same kind of classes we OK’d for the spring,” Conoley said. “The smaller classes, the lab classes, the health science classes. We know that those big lecture classes are going to stay remote in the fall.”
The school has implemented “hundreds” of sanitizing stations and “miles” of plexiglass, she said, and crews have “spent time doing deep cleanings.” Conoley said she hopes that the campus community will remain patient throughout the process of returning to normalcy.
“I know it’s unsettling when there is so much uncertainty, but just to emphasize that nobody is sitting around doing nothing, everybody that I’m working with is really at 100% to reach the goal of getting the majority of people back in the fall,” Conoley said.