SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Calif. — The last year among local universities was momentous, historic and in some ways haunting for thousands of students.
They overcame a full transition to online learning, abandoned their in-person social events(for the most part) and watched their fellow students contract a virus that’s claimed the lives of more than 530,000 Americans.
The good news is there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Hope from the various COVID-19 vaccines brings promising results that can propel our lives back into in-person gatherings by this summer, according to best estimates.
The light at the end of the tunnel is exacerbated by the state and county’s efforts to vaccinate teachers and school staff, ensuring a safe return to on-campus operations.
There’s a viral tweet going around that sums up how a lot of students may feel about potentially returning for in-person instruction:
Regardless of how students were in college before the pandemic, everything will have changed by the time they are scheduled to return this fall.
The distribution of these vaccines to local universities has been met with some difficulty. Vaccine shortages, specifically with Moderna, hindered a smooth rollout and even jeopardized some adults from getting their second dose of the vaccine.
It is also one of the main reasons why CSU San Marcos has been denied vaccine shipments from the state and the county.
CSU San Marcos still denied vaccines, no clear answers as of yet while reporting first student case in weeks
While San Diego State and University of San Diego continue to receive shipments of COVID-19 vaccines, CSU San Marcos told News 8 that their requests for vaccines were denied every time.
Based on previous communications, they have applied at least five weeks in a row.
If a school or healthcare network wishes to participate in vaccine distribution, they are required to apply through a California Department of Public Health webpage called MyCAvax, formerly known as CalVax.
Michael Workman, a communications officer with San Diego County, wrote in an email to News 8 that CSUSM applied to be a state-approved distributor of vaccines, but for “some reason lagged at the state.” SDSU and USD, were approved earlier, according to Workman.
“Therefore, they did not receive any vax, so can’t give it to them right now,” Workman wrote to News 8.
“However, we are currently seeking approval from the state to provide it to them.”
Workman didn’t immediately respond to email requests for specification regarding the last time they requested approval for CSUSM, nor any information about the last shipments sent out to SDSU or USD.
The county may not have to wait too long. A senior communications Advisor from the California Department of Public Health, Darrel Ng, told News 8 that the application from CSU San Marcos was approved back in February, making them available for vaccine shipments.
Ng didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment about what specific date in February that CSUSM was approved for vaccine shipments, which still puts into question why CSUSM was left out of vaccine distribution from the county.
Ng also wasn’t available via email to confirm if there was a delay in CSUSM’s application or not.
There’s still more to figure out here, and News 8 will continue to report on the specific dates shipments went out and if there was a delay in approving CSUSM’s vaccine application.
For now, CSUSM recognizes the hurdles the lack of vaccine shipments represents to its campus community.
In an emailed statement from Margaret Chantung, CSUSM chief communications officer, eligible campus community members are encouraged to go get vaccinated at clinics, primary care providers and county-level vaccination superstations.
“We understand that the continued situation of demand exceeding currently available supply has contributed to CSUSM not yet receiving a shipment of vaccines to eligible members of our campus,” the emailed statement read, in part.
“We continue to apply weekly and are hopeful that, as supply increases, there will be a possibility of receiving a shipment.”
Meantime, CSUSM reported its first student case of coronavirus in weeks. It was from a student who was not on-campus at all and only visited to get tested for COVID-19.
This was out of 372 tests conducted over the last week. This, in addition to 1,687 confirmed tests synthesized since February 15, make a negligibly low positivity rate at the school.
SDSU waits on more vaccines, processing more than 200 COVID-19 citations to campus community members
San Diego State University, even as an approved provider of coronavirus vaccines through MyCAvax, is finding itself applying for new vaccine shipments every week.
In an emailed statement to News 8, SDSU outlined they apply for vaccine requests every week and that shipment is based on the supply of available vaccines.
SDSU confirmed in an email to News 8 last week that its Student Health Services department administered 600 doses of vaccine to date.
This includes the 300 doses shipped to SDSU in early February and the latest shipment that arrived during the county's shift into Phase 1B. The second shipment was also 300 doses.
519 total campus community members have received at least one dose, according to a statement sent by the university.
The university wrote that while supply is limited on campus, individuals who qualify can get vaccinated at local clinics, pharmacies and other county locations.
"SDSU encourages all eligible members of our community to get vaccinated through any pathway accessible to them, whether through one of the County of San Diego vaccination sites, Imperial County vaccination sites, their healthcare provider or a different accessible option," the email sent on March 5 read, in part.
The school is also continuing to pursue citations against individual and organizational violations of COVID-19 health protocols.
Since January 1, 2021, the school made 215 contacts with people about alleged COVID-19 policy violations.
This is an increase in 20 citations since News 8 last reported a week ago.
SDSU told News 8 via email that the policy violations are an active process and that once a suspension or other consequence is issued, students have a 10-business-day window to appeal before it is finalized.
The university hasn’t finalized any of the decisions in the last two and a half months of policy violations.
Regarding coronavirus cases with the campus community, this semester continues to show a stark contrast to the last. SDSU reported the most coronavirus cases out of any other university in the state in fall with nearly 2,000 cases.
This semester, 181 total campus community cases have been reported by the school. 86 of which are from students living on campus.
In an email to News 8, SDSU confirmed that since March 1, two students tested positive who’s positive tests were connected to a classroom or congregate on-campus setting.
USD coronavirus cases continue to dwindle as more vaccines arrive
After instituting a stay-on-campus order for all students living at the school, University of San Diego is reporting strikingly few numbers of coronavirus cases.
From March 7 to March 13, just four cases were reported. Two students living on-campus and two students living in the area.
Such a difference is noted when comparing it to the week of January 31 to February 6 when 169 cases were reported. 96 from on-campus students, 72 from students off-campus and one was from faculty.
The stay-on-campus order was applauded by university officials, who ended the quarantine a few days earlier than the original date of March 1.
Students are still required to test weekly through a Rady Children’s Hospital testing center on campus. This applies to students who regularly visit campus or live on the grounds.
USD issued 500 doses at the end of January to those 65 and older who live and work with the university. Another 500 doses were shipped in mid-February to supplement second dose regimens.
In an email to News 8, USD confirmed 200 new doses of vaccine were shipped to the school. They were the only school between them, CSUSM and SDSU that received vaccine doses this week.
Commencement plans in the works throughout local universities
SDSU was the first four-year college in San Diego County to announce definitive plans for graduation with their proposed in-person commencement this upcoming May.
The announcement came as a campus-wide email on Friday afternoon, which announced the in-person option for commencement that came about after focus groups and soon-to-be graduate surveys.
"A majority of students have expressed a preference for an in-person event while others preferred virtual. We are committed to providing you with both options," the email read, in part.
The dates for the in-person graduation fall from May 25 to May 27.
The university is also extending a hand to all the students who missed an in-person commencement due to the pandemic. This includes August 2020, May 2020 and December 2019 graduates.
If the coronavirus situation worsens, SDSU is prepared for an adapted version of in-person commencement. SDSU calls it 'CARmencement,' a drive-through style ceremony.
The other college campuses still have plans in the works.
University of San Diego has an updated commencement webpage that offers May 15-16 for potentially in-person graduation for the School of Law, School of Leadership and Education Sciences and Professional and Continuing Education from the graduating class of 2020.
This would be similar to SDSU’s plans of inviting students from last year who missed in-person commencement.
There’s also May 22 to May 23 for other students graduating this term.
Footnotes on the webpage give caution that things will be scaled down if the pandemic continues to limit in-person activities.
CSUSM has a commencement date set on its website from May 22 to May 23, but wrote that it’s awaiting a final decision from University Management.
UC San Diego also has a webpage dedicated to 2021 commencement but is so far planning a virtual-only celebration.
It advertises guests to check the website in April for more information regarding the ceremony and if the situation surrounding the pandemic allows in-person celebrations.
UPDATE: A previous version of this article inaccurately stated that SDSU issued a '10-business-30-day window' for students wishing to appeal a coronavirus protocol violation. This is a typo from SDSU's original statement. A correction has been made to accurately portray SDSU's statement.
WATCH: San Diego State Students 'thank you' video goes viral: