Fauci ‘cautiously optimistic’ on Fall 2021 return to campus

December 19, 2020

Dr. Anthony Fauci, America’s top infectious disease expert, said he is “cautiously optimistic” about a return to live classes in the fall.

Fauci spoke with current California State University Chancellor Timothy P. White on Friday at noon via livestream, with attendance peaking at 5,800 viewers. Fauci said that to reach a sense of herd immunity against COVID-19 on a national scale, 70-85% of the population must get vaccinated. Fauci has previously predicted that gatherings may be possible by the Fourth of July.

“If we do that efficiently, and the doses of vaccines come in … we can get the overwhelming majority of the people in this country vaccinated, so that by the time we get to the 2021-22 term, I think we could be in good shape,” Fauci said. “So I am cautiously optimistic that we can do that and get back to some form of normality.”

The CSU announced on Dec. 9 that it would begin planning for a return to in-person teaching for the Fall 2021 semester at all 23 of its campuses. Fauci said that for commuter schools such as SF State, which has become increasingly composed of non-residential students, the ability to transition from remote learning to in-person classes largely depends on community measures of mitigating the spread of the virus. He said that proper community measures and a willingness among the public to get vaccinated will ultimately determine whether in-person teaching can be made a reality.

“There’s a difference in semantics between efficacy and effectiveness. Efficacy is how good the vaccine is in a clinical trial,” said Fauci, noting the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines’ efficacy rates.On Friday, the Food and Drug Administration authorized emergency use of the Moderna vaccine. 

“If we have a 94 to 95% efficacious vaccine, but we only vaccinate 40 to 50% of the people, that is not an effective vaccine program. So we need to make sure that we make that efficacy turn into effectiveness,” Fauci said.

Describing the upcoming fall as a “transitional semester,” SF State President Lynn Mahoney, who was present during the livestream with Fauci, said to Xpress that it will be up to the San Francisco Department of Public Health to gauge whether or not SF State will be able to host live teaching. Mahoney suspected some faculty members and students may not feel entirely comfortable with returning to campus, and the university may resort to hybrid learning in the fall, if permitted.

Mahoney said that she felt reassured by Fauci’s hope, saying that she believes the campus will largely return to in-person classes for the fall.

“I think we will be solidly back in the fall. I’m feeling really good. So I’m going to keep my fingers crossed,” Mahoney said.

While the university has until Feb. 15 to decide whether or not to host a live graduation following the Spring 2021 semester, Mahoney said she does not see an in-person graduation being feasible until the virus is under control and herd immunity is achieved.

Mahoney said conversations are underway to determine whether or not the CSU would require students, faculty and staff to get the vaccine prior to the start of the next semester. While the decision is one that would apply across the CSU instead of being on an individual campus basis, she said meetings between her and faculty union leaders of the university show unilateral agreement that a vaccine requirement should be put in place.

“I am going to advocate that we require it, but then we help make sure that students who can’t get access to it get access to it,” Mahoney said. “I don’t think we can require a vaccine and then say, ‘Good luck. Yeah, go find it yourself.’ And if students can’t get access to it, then we have to provide them flexibility and the ability to do their degrees.”

SF State currently does not offer or require testing for the virus — something Fauci recommended for schools to do when returning to in-person sessions — citing a lack of facilities to properly collect COVID-19 samples. According to SF State’s Media Relations Specialist Kent Bravo, the university is looking into offering off-campus testing sites for the future. 

Both Fauci and Mahoney firmly believe in the efficacy of the vaccines and the validity of the science behind them. Fauci said that while he understands the “difficult history” people of color have regarding medical research — specifically referencing African Americans and Latinos — he encouraged all people to get vaccinated. He noted the Moderna vaccine, which reached 11% participation with African Americans (compared to the 13% makeup of African Americans in the nation), and 21% participation with Latinos (compared to the 18% makeup of Latinos in the nation).

The CSU, according to Chancellor White, is the largest and most ethnically diverse four-year public university in the nation. About 62% of Hispanic bachelor’s degrees and 47% of African American bachelor’s degrees in the state come from the CSU.

“This is something that we need everyone’s help on,” Fauci said. “To encourage people now that we have two safe and effective vaccines — and I know that in the next couple of months, we’re going to have even more candidate vaccines that will have shown safety and efficacy — to make sure we encourage people of all demographic groups to step forward and get vaccinated.”

In an email to Xpress, Hazel J. Kelly, Public Affairs manager to the CSU Office of the Chancellor, said:

The Fauci discussion provided a great deal of insight as we continue to plan for 2021, including the projected return to in-person learning in the fall. That said, CSU leaders remain hyper-focused on the current term and the upcoming spring in light of the unprecedented surge in COVID-19 cases.

 

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