UCLA and UC Irvine are among the University of California campuses that will revert to remote classes for the first two weeks of the winter term in January in response to surging COVID-19 cases, the universities announced Tuesday.

UC system President Dr. Michael Drake sent a letter to all 10 system chancellors Tuesday, stressing that COVID vaccine booster shots will be required for eligible students and staff. He also directed all chancellors to develop “a plan for a January return to campus that mitigates public health impacts, responds to the unique circumstances facing your campus and maintains our teaching and research operations.”

“This may require campuses to begin the term using remote instruction in order to allow students to complete an appropriate testing protocol as they return to campus,” Drake wrote. “Given the differences in local conditions and campus operations across the university, the length of this remote instruction period may vary from campus to campus.”

Responding to that call, UCLA and UC Irvine announced classes will be held remotely for the first two weeks of the winter quarter, which begins Jan. 3.

In a letter to the Bruin community, Michael J. Beck, administrative vice chancellor, and Megan McEvoy, an professor of immunology and molecular genetics, wrote that all students should still plan to return to campus no later than Jan. 9 to participate “in a robust COVID-19 testing program that will help keep our community healthier.”

Faculty and staff returning to campus after the break will also participate in a testing regimen, wrote Beck and McEvoy, co-chairs of UCLA’s COVID-19 Response and Recovery Task Force.

UC Irvine Chancellor Howard Gillman wrote in a campus message that “while we recognize that change is a constant in this pandemic environment, we are committed to doing all we can to maintain in-person instruction for the remainder of the academic year. At the present time, however, we know it is not prudent to return to in-person instruction immediately after winter break.”

Gillman wrote that “many members of our community will be traveling and gathering in the weeks before classes are scheduled to begin on Jan. 3, increasing the risks of exposure to the virus, and the transmission of the Omicron variant is predicted to be especially intense toward the end of December and early January.”

While classes at UC Irvine will be held remotely, “the campus will remain fully operational, with the same staffing policies we have followed for the past few months,” Gillman wrote.

UC Riverside and UC San Diego also announced temporary shifts to remote learning for January.

In his letter to campus chancellors, Drake stressed that “evidence is clear that receiving a booster is essential to protecting yourself and those around you from Omicron and other variants.”

“Under existing UC policy, students, faculty and staff are required to keep their vaccination status up to date,” Drake wrote. “The policy mandates COVID-19 boosters for those who are eligible.”

Drake also wrote that campuses should not be holding any large gatherings.

“In line with public health best practices, your return plan should also emphasize the importance of preventive measures on campus, particularly during the initial return phase when students are still in the testing protocol,” he wrote.

“This should include vigilance around masking and a responsible approach to in-person gatherings. Large, congregant events, particularly indoors, should be avoided in the opening weeks of your winter quarter or spring semester.”

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