In an email sent out earlier today, Pomona College President G. Gabrielle Starr informed the student body that Pomona is ready to reopen for the fall semester of 2021. Campus will remain closed for the spring semester, and Pomona’s initial plans to return up to 500 students to campus have been put on hold. The Student Health Services (SHS) of the Claremont Colleges will attempt to provide vaccines to students and faculty, but it is currently unknown if SHS will have access to any vaccines by the beginning of fall semester. Nevertheless, Starr claimed in her email that Pomona “will continue providing and paying the full cost of health coverage of all furloughed employees until they return to work.”
According to Starr’s email, Pomona’s “program of testing and tracing is already in place for the faculty and staff members who must work from campus.” This, combined with a series of “[e]xtensive upgrades, from air filtration systems to hands-free door openers,” will form the basis of the college’s fall reopening.
Starr also stated that “[v]accines are at the center of focus right now. Under the state’s vaccination plan, education employees are in phase 1B tier one. We encourage all Pomona College faculty and staff members to get vaccinated once they become eligible and supply becomes available, and we will assist all such employees in presenting verification of their work in the education sector. To support this critical effort, the Claremont Colleges Student Health Service is continuing apace in the process to be approved to provide vaccines. However, with supplies greatly constrained right now, we do not know when vaccines will arrive on campus or even whether SHS will be allocated any supply. If you are otherwise eligible to receive vaccination per your local health authority’s guidelines and are able to secure an appointment, we encourage you to use that process to get vaccinated now instead of waiting for a campus-based vaccination clinic.”
In addition, Starr’s email explained that “county public health officials have informed [Pomona] that plans for a pilot/waiver program, which would allow some colleges to return up to 500 students to campus in spring, continue to be on hold as the region has been enduring a severe spike in cases and hospitalizations and a dire public health crisis. While officials have not completely shut the door on such a program, they have told [Pomona] approval for a March return as [the college has] sought is now unlikely. This is due to the severity of the pandemic in [its] region, a situation that remains quite dire despite some recent improvement, and public health officials don’t expect the case count to drop enough in time.” Pomona had initially planned to allow students to apply for the up to 500 on-campus spots that were to be made available for students in the spring 2021 semester. The application, announced in December, was subsequently postponed after COVID-19 cases in LA county reached a new high.
Despite the low probability of Pomona reopening for the spring semester, the college is “continuing efforts to support [its] staff members under full or partial furloughs. The College will continue providing and paying the full cost of health coverage of all furloughed employees until they return to work. The College, through a combination of philanthropy and CARES Act funding, also has provided tax-free grants to furloughed employees to help provide some financial cushion in addition to unemployment benefits. In addition, [it has] offered no-interest loans to furloughed workers to help them manage any economic hardship they are facing.” Pomona began furloughing workers in October 2020, meeting with harsh criticism from students and faculty alike. Through initiatives like the Sagehen Employee Support Fund and a program for dining staff to return to work providing meals for the elderly, Pomona managed to support many of its furloughed employees during the fall of 2020.
Pomona also anticipates “providing students with additional funds to help manage the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. This will come from funds provided by Congress in the recent Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act.” According to the email, Pomona is “working out details and expect[s] to have them available by the middle of next month.”
Pomona’s plans to continue with its plan to replace the Rains Center, its current athletic facility, with a more modern complex, remain unchanged. According to Starr, “[Pomona] will be sending out details on [its] plans to break ground on the new athletic, recreation and wellness center in order to save money and minimize campus disruption from construction when students return. [Pomona] had held off on this donor-supported project for nearly a year in the uncertainty of the pandemic, and now [it is] ready to move ahead on this facility supporting wellness for all.”