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CSUMB Campus Reopens After 17 Months Of COVID-19 Shutdown

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Doug McKnight
/
KAZU News
CSUMB President Edwardo Ochoa cutting the ribbon at the grand opening of the Otter Student Union during the first week of classes.

California State University Monterey Bay students are back on campus after 17 months of remote learning. It's the first time this year’s freshman and sophomores are taking in-person classes, making them the largest group of first year residential students in the University’s history. But the back-to-school excitement is tempered, as 11 individuals on campus have tested positive for COVID-19 since move-in day.

Citing privacy concerns, the university is not naming or releasing much information about the infected individuals except to say they are isolated in university housing, away from other students. They are being checked by university health workers frequently and will remain quarantined until the end of their recovery period.

Edwardo Ochoa, the president of CSU Monterey Bay, said the University has been planning the reopening of campus for over a year.

“We have multiple layers of protection and safety,” he said.

Except those who have a religious or medical exemption, everyone on campus is vaccinated; students, professors and staff. Those who claim an exemption must be tested every week. And everyone must register their status with the university.

“So we know exactly the percentage of vaccination that we have and we know it is substantially higher than the surrounding community,” Ochoa said.

In addition, the University has upgraded the ventilation systems in all buildings with higher air flow and better filters. Over half the classes are still fully online and only about a third are full-time-in-person. The rest are a hybrid. It’s an arrangement that gives the University flexibility.

Ochoa said in case of a major outbreak, the university can shut down a building or revert back to “full virtual” if necessary. But he added it’s an unlikely scenario, because of “widespread vaccination rates on our campus.”

Everyone is required to wear masks indoors on campus, regardless of vaccination status. . Similar sized CSU campuses are reporting comparable infection rates.

Chris Machado is a sophomore living on campus. He said the fact that most people taking in-person classes are vaccinated is reassuring, but he is still concerned.

Even though Chris is a second-year student, this is his first extended time away from home.

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Doug McKnight
Chris Machado, a CSUMB sophomore, is attending on campus classes for the first time.

His dorm room is tiny. A small closet and a single bed form one wall. A few feet away, a simple wooden desk sits along the other. With just the two of us inside, it feels crowded. Scattered about the room are personal items — ways for Chris to remain connected to his Central Valley home and close-knit family.

He arrived a few weeks before classes and said spending his first night in a nearly empty dorm was emotional.

“I didn't want to call my mom, but eventually I was like, I got to,” he said. So I talked to my mom and dad for probably a few hours and then felt better and was eventually able to sleep.”

Outside Machado’s dorm, there are people everywhere. It is move-in day and students, parents, brothers and sisters are carrying all manner of things in all manner of containers: pillows, bedding, clothing, a new coffee pot, school supplies and boxes of cereal. Old friends are reconnecting. Horns honk. People wave. A campus that was deserted for three semesters is suddenly alive again.

Dr. Leslie Williams is associate vice president for student affairs and dean of students.

Speaking from the grand opening of the school’s new student union, Williams was thrilled to see students returning to campus.

“When all the students started moving in and there was a traffic jam on Inter-Garrison (Rd.), I was loving it because it's like they're back and they're so happy,” she said.

Named for CSUMB’s mascot, the Otter Student Union is a $55 million, 70,000 square foot building designed and paid for by students.

“It's just really a place to engage in with other students and really complement that classroom experience with the out-of-classroom activities that we feel we used to kind of help grow them as an entire student," Williams said.

Completed during the pandemic, the student union is, in a way, a symbol of the importance of campus life in a university education. Williams said the university intersects at an important time in a student’s life — that twilight between adolescence and adulthood.

“We know students are at an age when they are growing and developing their identities and who they are as a person,” she said. “So we really try to help foster that growth and help them figure out ways to learn things outside of their comfort zone.”

Williams expects the students will work together and help each other during the pandemic.

Late this week, the University announced it is providing free walk-up COVID-19 testing to all students and employees at the Otter Student Union.