As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect Long Beach State, President Jane Close Conoley elaborated on the health precautions that the university is taking to keep students, faculty and staff members safe in order for the campus to remain open.
The Daily Forty-Niner sat down with President Conoley via a Zoom conference to get further insight about the process of the Long Beach State campus reopening after its 18 month hiatus through online instruction.
49er: According to the CSULB COVID-19 website, about 50% is back on campus, but some professors have been told 28%. How much of the CSULB student population is actually back on campus?
Conoley: I would say 40% is pretty close, and that reflects off of the 52% of in-person classes. We have also been planning for the spring semester, and it looks like 90% of the classes will have some face-to-face elements, if not, totally face-to-face. People also have to remember that even before the pandemic a certain percentage of our classes were online anyway, so this is getting us back to being close to normal.
49er: How do you think the campus is doing with re-opening since the pandemic?
Conoley: We’ve asked the faculty now to create seating charts, and ask people to sit in the same seat at all times because that will help with contact tracing. For example, if someone’s sitting in the first row on the far right and the person who tests positive for COVID-19 is in the back row on the far left side, then we wouldn’t need to contact the front row telling them they were exposed. But, that will be a new thing Academic Affairs will be doing.
49er: Also, what are you pleased or relieved about?
Conoley: What I’m pleased and relieved about is overwhelmingly there’s been good cooperation and getting the vaccine has given us pretty high percentages across the board especially for students who are coming to campus.
Faculty and unionized numbers are also going up and they have also been given until Wednesday, Oct. 27 to provide evidence of vaccination. We talk to public health almost everyday and tell them when we have cases, they give us advice.
We’re working on this situation constantly whether it’s increased cleanin or increased PPE. Overall, I think we’re doing well and we’re lucky because we’re in a community that has a high vaccination rate.
49er: What did you find disappointing?
Conoley: The unwillingness to accept science and think, “my opinion is more important than science.”
I find that frustrating among college educated people, and those who say, “my opinion is that they haven’t done enough research on this RNA platform.”
Well, that’s a little disappointing. Plus, there’s still people with ideological or political reasons who just don’t see their role in keeping the campus safe where sometimes it’s all about them, and not about the people who are sitting next to them or in the same office as them. But, it takes all kinds of people, and we have a wonderful campus where people are doing their best.
49er: What have been some of the biggest challenges as CSULB president during the pandemic?
Conoley: The hardest thing for me was the level of both complexity and uncertainty because every decision we make will have layers and layers of things to worry about.
When we first announced we were going to close for a few days to get ready for remote teaching because we thought we’d be open in two weeks, and we certainly thought we’d be open by September.
Generally, I learned what people needed to hear was that their health and safety was our top concern and priority. So, the other challenge was making sure I was always authentically communicating to our students to be supported within their education and also wanting them to be healthy by basically doing two things at once.
49er: How confident are you that we’ll finish the fall semester in-person?
Conoley: I’m cautiously optimistic we’ll finish the fall semester because of the high rate of vaccinations among students, faculty and staff members.
Also, we got a suggestion and heard some universities are considering whether or not to go remote after Thanksgiving because we have that week off and people go to different places and even if they’ve been around their close family and friends, it’s still possible to be exposed, so we’re planning to discuss this matter in our agenda on whether or not we think we’re in any danger.
We got that information from one of the chief physicians in the UC system, Dr. Carrie Byington, who has been advising their Chancellors and she has also come to advise the CSU presidents as well since we don’t have our own medical centers.
49er: Do you see the campus going back 100% in person for the spring semester? Why or why not?
Conoley: Yeah, you know, I think we’ll be close to about 90% of the classes to have a face-to-face element because more and more people will be vaccinated and the virus won’t have any place to go.
So it’ll be like managing a regular cold or flu where we’d have to get people to get their flu shots now of course. I’m confident, you know, and I’ve learned to be very humbled in front of the virus because I didn’t really know before all this started about how mutations worked.
The beauty of everybody being vaccinated is it doesn’t give the virus a chance to mutate so it really helps the process slow down.