12/16 Message from Assoc. Dean Penner on Updated School COVID-19 Policy.

The new SoPS Committee on COVID (see membership below) met for the first time Monday, Dec. 14, to discuss issues for the School relating to the pandemic. I write to share an update on our COVID case policy, and to provide related information.

The Executive Summary
  • Students and postdocs should be reminded that they are not required to participate in Phase 2 Research on campus for any reason.  Working remotely is a perfectly acceptable option.
  • Based on the Dec. 2 survey of our School, a cohort of 318 are working in Phase 2 Research in SoPS as follows:
    • 36 Undergrad students
    • 224 Graduate students
    • 35 Postdocs
    • 23 Visitors or others
  • The School has had a total of five confirmed cases since March.  Objectively, this is a fantastic record.  It is attributable to the efforts of every individual working on campus in Phase 2, and just as importantly, to every individual who has worked remotely - often sub-optimal conditions - instead of coming to campus.  Your sacrifices are very much appreciated. 
  • The campus is continuing to use a 14 day quarantine period for individuals who believe they may have been exposed to the virus.  Consistent with the protocol of the Orange County Health Authority the campus is not adopting the new CDC guidelines at this time.
  • The COVID case protocol put into action in August (summarized in the attachment) has been reviewed by the Committee.  It was decided to continue this protocol through the end of January 2021, and to review it again at that time, and monthly thereafter.  
  • The School will create a mini-COVID dashboard on the SoPS website that summarizes case information.  "Mini" because we have just five cases so far.  This tool will provide information on the date of the reported case, and the location by building and floor, wherever possible.
  • A new California law, AB 685, requires that notification be provided to persons in the work place who may have been exposed to the virus.  This law takes effect Jan. 1.  the UCI Campus Administration is taking responsibility for meeting the new reporting requirements of this law, and the School will be informed of our role - if any - soon.
Additional detail for some of these items is provided below:

CDC Guidelines - The Campus has an MOU with Orange County Public Health in which it agrees to comply with COVID guidelines approved by the County.  The County has not approved the new CDC Guidelines issued on Dec. 2.  This means that the Campus and the School continues to use a 14 quarantine for individuals who have been exposed to COVID-19.  

The SoPS COVID Case Protocol - This was devised to fill a gap in the Campus COVID policy - focusing on shared laboratory spaces.  The original protocol incorporated input from all Departments in August.  

 The SoPS Case Protocol mandates that everyone goes home if a coworker, working in the laboratory, becomes symptomatic.  The results of a COVID test, if made available by the symptomatic individual, dictate next steps.  A positive test means all laboratory personnel quarantine for 14 days.  A negative test means everyone except the symptomatic individual goes back to work immediately.  This is summarized in the diagram attached below.

This protocol is more stringent than prescribed by the campus, in which COEH (Center for Occupational and Environmental Health) uses the contact tracing to identify those who have close contact with infected individuals for periods exceeding 15 min. (in 24 hrs) and are requested to quarantine. 

The Committee believes this more stringent case policy is needed now, and that it should remain in force through January 2021 based upon the following considerations:  i) A precipitous increase in cases has occurred in OC and SoCal more broadly in recent weeks.  ii) Hospital and ICU beds required for the treatment of the sickest COVID patients are approaching 100% utilization.  iii) Case numbers are expected to increase further in the County in January, following the holidays. 

COVID fatigue - Compliance with COVID best practices is exhausting, at a minimum.  However continuing to do all of the simple things that keep us safe - masks, distancing, hand-washing - is more vital now than ever.  Please continue to reinforce this with your coworkers and friends.  

Membership of the Committee on COVID - Angela Geissbuhler (EH&S), Kerry Kick (Director of Personnel and HR), Maria Graziano (Asst. Dean), Claudia Czimczik (VC for Safety, ESS), Pedro Ochoa-Ricoux (VC for Safety, Phys & Astr), Mike Cranston (Chair, Math), Greg Weiss (VC for Safety, Chem), Reg Penner (Assoc. Dean for Res).

As a School, our performance throughout this pandemic has been exemplary.  This is a testament to the efforts of each and every one of you, every day.  

We welcome your comments and questions,