U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Strict rules imposed by Los Angeles County health officials allow virtually no in-person college classes

Aug. 18, 2020
Officials say the way colleges operate creates a significant risk of outbreaks of Covid-19.

Colleges in Los Angeles County have been given public health rules about reopening plans that allow virtually no in-person classes, and extremely limited on-campus housing.

The Los Angeles Times reports that the Los Angeles County Public Health rules supersede state guidelines and are tougher than those of many other counties. The rules are thwarting more expansive plans envisioned by Harvey Mudd College and other local campuses and are prompting UCLA officials to reevaluate their own September reopening plans.

The county Health Department says that colleges and universities need to limit campus activities in the near term because high community transmission rates are driven, in part, by younger people ages 18 to 30 years old who currently account for 25% to 30% of new infections.

“The very nature of the way that colleges and universities operate creates a significant risk of outbreaks of Covid-19 among students, faculty and staff,” Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer says. “And these risks extend beyond campus into the broader community. That is why we have made the difficult but necessary decision to limit the reopening of these important institutions.”

The new county guidelines are likely to create more financial woes for UCLA as they allow only students with no “feasible alternative” to live in campus housing, which must be limited to single occupants. The Westwood campus had hoped to house as many as 1,500 students in double-occupancy apartments.

Harvey Mudd College had expected nearly 500 students among about 835 enrolling for fall to return to campus housing. The shutdown of residence halls will cost Harvey Mudd $12.3 million in room and board. Other campuses also face steep declines in housing and dining revenue, including the University of California and California State University systems.

The L.A. County guidelines surpass those of the state, which allows double-occupancy student housing with safe distancing and masking. The county allows only students with no alternatives to live in campus-run housing.

Reopening plans for Cal Poly Pomona and Cal State Los Angeles both adhere to county rules. Cal Poly Pomona will offer housing to a maximum of 500 students, who will be housed in single-occupancy spaces with single restrooms. Priority will be given to students from other countries, former foster youth program participants, those experiencing housing insecurity or who were identified by the Disability Resource Center, among others.

A UCLA spokesman says the university is “actively reviewing the protocols” but could not yet elaborate on how the county rules will affect its reopening plan. UCLA does not start its fall quarter until Sept. 28; if public health conditions improve by then, county officials may relax the rules.

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