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University of California president: Campuses must have contact tracing, testing plans to reopen

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Key Points
  • Testing and contact tracing programs will be required for University of California campuses to reopen in the fall, its president, Janet Napolitano, told CNBC on Friday.
  • "They will all have to meet minimum safety standards to reopen," Napolitano said on "The Exchange."
  • The UC system has 10 campuses across the state; all serve undergraduates except UC San Francisco.
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University of California president on the future of college amid coronavirus

Testing and contact tracing programs for the coronavirus will be required for University of California campuses to reopen in the fall, system president Janet Napolitano told CNBC on Friday.

"They will all have to meet minimum safety standards to reopen," Napolitano said on "The Exchange." "If they're going to reopen at all, they're going to need to have a testing plan, a contact tracing plan, a quarantine plan, things of that sort." 

The UC system has 10 campuses across the state; all serve undergraduates except UC San Francisco.

Napolitano said the university system, which has around 280,000 students, will definitely offer classes in the fall, but it remains a question of how that instruction will be given. 

"It might be remote. It might be in person. It might be some sort of hybrid," said Napolitano, a former governor of Arizona and secretary of Homeland Security

Each campus across the system is in the process of developing a specific plan for the fall, she said. She said students will be informed "well in advance of what the campus is going to offer as they make their decisions of whether or not to actually enroll." 

Colleges and universities across the U.S. shifted this spring from in-person instruction to online classes as the threat from the Covid-19 outbreak intensified. But there is now significant focus on how — or whether — in-person classes can safely resume in the coming months. 

Christina Paxson, president of Brown University, told CNBC last week that colleges "have to try" to welcome students on campuses in the fall, but stressed the importance of doing so safely. She said one likely change would be doing away with large, in-person lectures in favor of smaller classes. 

Higher education institutions also are facing financial pressures, despite steps from the federal government to send them aid as part of the $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief package passed in March. A portion of that aid is supposed to go to students. 

The University of California system suffered financial losses in March of around $600 million, Napolitano said. Half came from lost revenue at the university system's medical centers, while the rest is attributable to refunds on housing and dining fees as campuses shifted online, she said.

"We're waiting for the April numbers," she said, "but they'll be larger." 

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Brown University president outlines plan to reopen college campuses