Arapahoe Community College President Stephanie Fujii announced that most ACC classes would begin virtually on Jan. 18 and continue on a remote status until Feb 1. The decision came amid a continued surge in COVID-19 cases brought on by the highly transmissible omicron variant.
“As we are all adjusting to continued COVID concerns, cases, and the need for constant adaptations, I trust this will be a most interesting semester,” Fujii said in an email to students, faculty and staff.
Along with students, most staff will also work remotely for the two-week stretch as the campus monitors COVID. But the college's three campuses in Littleton, Parker and Castle Rock will remain open, Fujii said, who added there are exceptions for classes and staff to be in-person.
This includes some health-related classes, such as nursing and EMT, as well as science labs, though lectures will be online, Fujii said. The college's lounge areas will also be open so that students can access printers, and staff from the college's financial aid office will be on campus.
Fujii said the college will not force student clubs and organizations to meet remotely.
“We're not prohibiting people from meeting face to face, so if that's what a club decided they wanted to do, we're not going to become the virtual police,” she said in an interview.
The move to mostly remote marks the latest effort by the college to mitigate yet another soaring wave of virus cases after it implemented a vaccine or testing mandate for students and staff to remain in-person on any of its three campuses.
For students or staff who do not show proof of vaccination, they will be required to test at least once a week. ACC had intended to begin its testing cycle earlier this month but delayed it to Jan. 29, citing testing scarcity.
“We have heard from a number of staff about the challenges of getting tested,” Fujii said, with longer lines and elusive rapid tests complicating the college's testing plans.
The college will also continue to require masks to be worn on all of its campuses.
Fujii said ACC ordered 10,000 KN95 masks, which health officials have said are among the most effective, that will be available for free Monday through Friday in the college's mailroom from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on all of its campuses.
Along with the college's vaccination and testing push, staff who receive a booster shot will have the opportunity to receive $100, according to Fujii. Currently, 88.3% of staff are fully vaccinated, with 69% of students fully vaccinated.
The college will follow new isolation and quarantine guidelines released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in late December.
Isolation will apply to students or staff members who test positive for COVID. After testing positive (day 0) they must stay home for five full days, regardless of vaccination status. If, after five days, no symptoms are present or symptoms are resolving, they can leave isolation but must continue to wear a mask for five more days (at ACC, students and staff are required to wear masks at all times anyway).
Quarantine applies to those who may have been exposed to COVID and is different depending on vaccination status. According to the CDC, for those who are boosted or fully vaccinated within the last six months with the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, or the last two months with the J&J vaccine, they do not need to quarantine but must wear a mask for at least 10 days and test on the fifth day, if possible.
For those who have not been boosted or who have been fully vaccinated more than six months ago with the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, or more than two months ago with the J&J vaccine, they will have to stay home for five days and wear a mask when around others for at least five more.
Fujii said while the decision to go remote through January had to be made, she understands students' frustration.
“This is not what people wanted, but I've been very impressed with how much people are trying to understand it,” she said. “Every single semester has been upended, has been different.”
Fujii said she remained optimistic that the virtual pivot would be temporary and that the remainder of the semester would see a full return to in-person learning.
“Our community is best when we're able to be together,” she said. “We're learning a lot … and we're using everything that we've learned to improve our ability to successfully facilitate student learning.”