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As the pandemic threatens to restructure American higher education as we know it, the coronavirus has already instituted major changes at the California State University system. On Tuesday, the chancellor of the nation’s largest four-year public university system — which includes 23 schools like San Diego State University and San Francisco State University, but not the University of California system, with schools like UC Berkeley —
announced that its 480,000 undergraduates would not return to Cal State campuses this fall. “Our university, when open without restrictions and fully in person, as is the traditional norm of the past, is a place where over 500,000 people come together in close and vibrant proximity with each other on a daily basis,” Timothy P. White said. “That approach, sadly, just isn’t in the cards now.”
The decision to hold exclusively online classes for the remainder of the year was just one of several announcements made Tuesday that show that California, by far the largest economy in the nation, is preparing for an extended shutdown. As New York City mayor Bill de Blasio stresses the potential for a soft reopening in June — and other regions of the country barrel back into a modified sense of normalcy — Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer told the county board of supervisors on Tuesday that its stay-at-home order would remain in place for three more months, adding that restrictions could be “gradually relaxed” via a five-step plan during that time period. The announcement came shortly before Governor Gavin Newsom’s order allowing some businesses to reopen:
Though the state remains cautious in its reopening strategy, some areas have modified the remain-at-home order. Last week, Southern California retailers selling books, toys, music, flowers, sporting goods, and clothing were allowed to reopen their stores with curbside pickup only. Golf courses and hiking trails also reopened last week, as did beaches in Orange County. And on Wednesday, beaches in L.A. County will reopen for “active use” activities like running and swimming, though city residents will not be able to sunbathe. “If beach visitors do not follow all the rules, the State of California or Los Angeles County can once again close our beaches,” said Manhattan Beach mayor Richard Montgomery.
The private sector also responded with a potentially transformative COVID-19 response this week, when Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey emailed employees informing them that they’d be allowed to work from home permanently, though some workers whose job demands their physical presence, like those maintaining servers, will need to come in.
Considering the scale of the state’s economy — the fifth largest in the world as of 2018 — California’s path could help inform other states and firms leaning toward caution, as the federal government fails to provide a consistent message in its response. Just as Twitter’s decision may influence other tech giants’ decisions to shift to a permanent remote office — altering the housing market and tax base of Silicon Valley and San Francisco — the Cal State decision to stay off-campus until 2021 could help other university systems decide how to handle their fall semester.