As Covid-19 and its emerging variants continue to spread across the country, we interviewed APU administration on the state of APU’s COVID management.

This week marks the third week that APU Chapel has returned to in-person sessions, setting a tone for a positive outlook concerning the state of COVID-19 management at APU. However, many colleges across the country experienced spikes in confirmed cases during the start of their spring semesters. We reached out to APU administration to get a better scope of how APU is combating the spread of the virus. 

I was able to interview Chris Jennings, Chair of APU’s Return to Campus Task Force, about important information concerning the current situation and future of APU in the midst of the pandemic.

Q: Are conditions getting better or worse at APU? Are we seeing an increase or decrease in Covid cases on campus?  

A: Cases are on the decline, both in Los Angeles County and in the APU community. This is a testament to the careful planning of the Return to Campus Task Force and, more importantly, to our students and employees who have followed the health and safety protocols on campus. I’m really pleased with how our community has responded over the course of the year. Speaking to the Omicron variant in particular, conditions seem to be improving in California…

Jennings also stated that the APU community can monitor the amount of confirmed cases within the community by visiting the COVID-19 Tracker on the APU website.

For APU readers, this news will come as a relief and comfort. However, Jennings remarks that the current conditions can be volatile and emphasizes the importance of staying committed to health and safety protocols as a community. 

Q: What measures is the APU administration taking to prevent the spread of the illness?

A: We’ve taken a very strategic and principled approach to reducing the spread of COVID-19 on our campus while maintaining minimal disruption to our core in-person operations. Our primary focus is to implement health and safety protocols that we know will work and that comply with the public health agency orders. In this respect, I can’t say enough about APU’s Student Health Center personnel led by Dr. Todd Emerson. They have tirelessly prioritized the health of this student body through vaccine clinics, providing testing resources, contract tracing, and ensuring students in quarantine or isolation receive care. We have a workforce that cares for each other and our students. That is evident by how they follow the guidelines around masks, health and safety training, testing when required, and staying home when they are not well.

APU admin has also taken great strides to ensure that classes can remain in-person for as long as possible this semester, resulting in some creative problem solving.

Q: What’s been the biggest challenge for administration, and APU as a whole, about returning back to campus this semester?  

A: One of our biggest challenges has been one of our greatest successes, and that is the outdoor classroom spaces we’ve created for music students in the College of the Arts. Los Angeles County has been very strict on indoor singing and wind instruments, so we’ve had to be creative. I talked about Dr. Emerson and his staff earlier. Another hero of this season is Dean Stephen Johnson and the COTA faculty and staff. The work that they have done to ensure our musicians have uninterrupted learning during this academic year has been second to none. Our goal has always been to maintain as much of the in-person academic experience as possible. We know the importance of in-person learning. Yes, we can do remote learning for a period and do it well, but we value the learning experience that comes in the classroom and other in-person interactions. I’d say on that front, we’ve handled the pandemic this semester very well. 

The Return to Campus Task Force’s efforts to accommodate for the music students is a testament to APU’s ardent desire to continue an in-person semester.

Despite the positive trends of declining cases and effective safety measures, the sense of uncertainty brought on by the pandemic continues to loom over the APU community. The question remains if the student body will be forced to return to remote learning in the near future.

Q: Will APU likely see a return to remote learning given current Covid conditions? What would have to happen for APU to have to return to online? 

A: I know that is on the minds of many. Unfortunately, it’s not one we can predict. For any significant adjustments to operations, we look to government orders and regulations, the pace of community spread in the counties where APU operates, the measure of vaccination rates in our own employee and student population, and the ability to avoid outbreaks at APU upon our return to campus. Those measures do not point to a return to remote learning at this time, but we are mindful of how quickly things can change and are ready for whatever comes. In-person learning is a priority for APU and we will do all we can to deliver that, consistent with the health and safety of our community and in compliance with county guidelines.  

Q: What is the APU administration’s outlook/mentality during this semester? Hopeful or doubtful? Positive or negative?  

A: As an RTC Task Force member, I’ve watched our community respond in 2020 to the pandemic with resilience and thrive when we came back in the fall of 2021. COVID-19 caused us to refine our operations, and the challenges are not over, but I’ve seen how our students and employees respond positively.

This hopeful outlook is met with further good news as California Governor, Gavin Newsom, announced last week that the statewide in-door mask mandate would be ending this week for vaccinated people. However, Jennings remarks thatLos Angeles County has specific, more restrictive orders for institutions of higher education than the state does. As of now, those local mask orders have not changed and are not affected by the state order. We are monitoring the county’s response to the state’s changes and will advise the community if and when our indoor mask protocols change.”

As expressed earlier by Jennings, APU administration still faces many challenges before a sense of stability can be reached. Yet, the effort and compliance with safety guidelines of the APU community has left people like Chris Jennings feeling hopeful and positive about the future for APU.