Students and family members mingle on main campus Oct. 8 during Waves Weekend 2021. Pepperdine is reinforcing its COVID protocols before students and parents can return to campus for spring 2022. Photo by Ashley Mowreader
The article has been updated to reflect the most recent LA County Department of Public Health guidance regarding face-coverings for institutions of higher education.
With rising positivity rates in LA County, Pepperdine reinforces its COVID-19 precautions and policies, hoping to continue in-person classes throughout the spring.
Due to the rapid spread of the Omicron variant, the University anticipates a high positivity rate among community members in the coming week and works to mitigate spread on campus.
“Our internal doctors, our consultant epidemiologist, the Department of Public Health, and other colleges and universities, we’re all kind of bracing for there’s going to be a lot of people that get Omicron,” Chief Operating Officer Phil Phillips said.
The University will begin classes online Jan. 10, with tentative plans to return in-person on Jan. 13. There’s no one indicator or equation that will prompt a continuation of virtual classes, Phillips said.
“There really isn’t a threshold right now because things are changing so much,” Phillips said.
In hopes of starting the semester without an outbreak, Pepperdine will require a two-part testing policy before in-person classes begin, Chief Business Officer Nicolle Taylor said.
First, an entry test. Students will test themselves within 72 hours of arriving on campus for spring 2022 — whether that’s moving into the residence halls, reporting for work or getting their Pepperdine-offered PCR test. The test can be antigen, PCR or an at-home test, Taylor said.
Students will upload negative test results to the Spring 2022 Entry Test form and, in the event of a positive test, to the Student Health Center portal.
Then, a PCR test. PCR tests are more sensitive tests, allowing for more accurate results, Provost Jay Brewster said during the Jan. 4 President’s Briefing. Community members will test between Jan. 8-10 at a regular weekly testing site, Taylor said.
Graphic by Ashley Mowreader
The University expects to have students’ test results by late Wednesday and from there to make a decision about returning to in-person instruction.
Phillips said there is no target positivity or negativity rate the University is looking for.
While awaiting test results, some in-person activities will pause as well.
Student Activities and Inter-Club Council groups will meet virtually until classes are back in-person, according to a Jan. 5 email from Student Organizations Coordinator Sabrina Wilson to ICC club leaders.
On-campus dining will transition to grab-and-go, similar to its format in spring 2021, and indoor seating will be closed temporarily, Taylor said.
Athletics events scheduled between Jan. 10-13 will take place without spectators, Taylor said. Immediate family members can attend games but the general public cannot until in-person classes resume.
Screening testing will continue at its usual frequency, Taylor said. The University does not plan to implement stricter enforcement of the weekly requirement, Phillips said.
“We had really great compliance, over 95% compliance from everyone [in the fall],” Taylor said.
Testing sites will come with added features in the spring, Taylor said. The University will distribute a week’s supply of upgraded masks to students who want them in pre-packaged bags.
The type of mask available will vary depending on the University’s supply but may include surgical, KN95 or N95 masks, Taylor said.
As of Jan. 7, all students, faculty and staff must wear surgical, KN95 or N95 masks on campus indoors, according to a Public Relations email.
Additionally, the University plans to offer elective antigen testing on the Malibu campus, Phillips said. Symptomatic students can still test at the Student Health Center, but for those who just want another test, they will be able to do so at or near testing sites.
The University updated its isolation and quarantine policies following CDC guidance, Taylor said. Now, vaccinated and boosted students do not have to quarantine in the event they are a close contact. All other students will quarantine for five days.
“The really easy answer is, if you are a student, and you don’t want to have to quarantine, you should get your booster shot,” Taylor said.
Pepperdine also partnered with hotels through the canyon to provide additional space for quarantine or isolation and will continue housing students in the Villa hotel and trailers used in the fall.
In the most extreme case, the University is prepared to transition fully online, Phillips said.
“When the point comes, where it would be more effective for our students and for our faculty to be online, then that’s what we’ll do,” Phillips said. “But we don’t know what that looks like right now. We have to sort of incrementally go through this.”
Phillips reaffirmed Pepperdine’s principles in determining how best to navigate the pandemic: Weighing health and safety, community needs, evidence-based protocols and academic excellence.
“When we talk about [the] health and safety of our community, it’s not one dimensional,” Phillips said. “We really try in the most genuine way to think of everyone’s perspective and try to find that sweet spot where — maybe not everyone’s getting exactly what they wish they got, but everybody gets it and they’re OK with it.”
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