Editorial: UCCS’ COVID-19 approach is confusing

     Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, “unprecedented times” became a popular way to describe the state of the world. Two years in, a lack of precedent no longer suffices to explain UCCS’ muddled response. 

     Amid a surge of omicron cases at the beginning of the spring semester, UCCS’ COVID-19 risk mitigation strategies and messaging surrounding them have been more confusing than ever for students. 

     Before classes resumed in-person on Jan. 18, an email from Chancellor Venkat Reddy outlined ways the university planned to limit the spread of the virus. The most significant new mitigation strategy was the introduction of a COVID-19 booster requirement for all students, faculty and staff.  

     Through an attestation form sent to student emails on Jan. 21, students can update the Wellness Center on their vaccination status.  

     According to Reddy, exemptions for the booster are “available for eligible individuals.” This wording is misleading, however, as any student can submit an exemption for any medical or non-medical reason without further elaboration. 

     Therefore, the university’s claim to have a booster requirement — something compulsory and non-negotiable — is unclear, as members of the UCCS community can choose to receive the booster or not and can choose how truthfully they want to answer their attestation form. 

     Compare this to Colorado College, which requires vaccinations, boosters and proof of both. 

     Although UCCS has emphasized preventative measures to minimize spread, students still struggle to find resources to handle COVID-19 exposure and illness.  

     The most basic rule is to avoid coming to campus when sick; meanwhile, students who have been exposed or experience symptoms face wait times for free testing or costs like the Wellness Center’s $20 telehealth appointment fee.  

     We hang in limbo as we try to decide whether to risk going to school with a sore throat in the morning or deal with the consequences of professors with strict attendance policies if we choose to quarantine. 

     On the other hand, professors who are also feeling the effects of mixed messaging have resorted to managing COVID-19 risk in individual classrooms by introducing hybrid and remote options. 

     As a result, students have an array of classes with learning modes and attendance requirements that may differ from what we signed up for at registration. It’s hard to keep up when one class might have moved online with a handful of in-person meetings, or another might now be totally asynchronous. 

     This battle between in-person and remote learning has gone on for the first weeks of classes, leaving us all to guess about whether we should expect a full shift online. 

     The other three CU campuses opted for a virtual start to their respective spring semesters. CU Boulder returned in person on Jan. 24 after two weeks online, and CU Denver returned on Jan. 31. CU Anschutz will not begin in-person classes until Feb. 7. 

     Why didn’t UCCS start remotely? 

     The administration, according to the chancellor’s email, plans to reevaluate the decision on Feb. 1 — conveniently close to the Feb. 2 census date. 

     According to Vice Chancellor for Health and Wellness Stephanie Hanenberg, concern for effects on students’ mental health and academics as a result of switching between learning modalities motivated UCCS’ decision to start the semester in person. 

     However, our current uncertainties — navigating shifting instructional modes and trying to prioritize the health of the campus community on our own — are just as stressful. 

     The administration’s verbiage needs to be consistent with their actions. They either need to admit they are not taking this seriously and their “requirements” are optional, or follow through with what they call their “strong campus response.”