Thank You for Doing
Face coverings. Six feet apart. Disinfecting. Daily health checks. Testing. More than eight months into the COVID-19 pandemic’s grip on the nation, these basic protections form the foundation of UC Merced’s evolving structure for on-campus activity.
Access to the main campus and other university sites remains limited. Faculty, staff and students do a daily self-check of possible novel coronavirus symptoms. A determination of no symptoms via the online check is required to be allowed on campus. In September, screening checkpoints were instituted at campus entrances.
Meanwhile, employees who need to be on campus regularly – primarily essential staff and research teams – underwent baseline testing for COVID-19 in September. This is being followed by a “lot quality” program in which a percentage of the active campus population is selected randomly for tests. The overall goal of the tests is to ensure the campus community’s health and allow the university to ramp up its crucial research efforts.
Fall semester enters its final weeks with only a few hundred faculty, staff and students regularly on campus each day. Most are working, teaching and learning remotely. Plans for spring semester may include some flexibility for shifting from remote to campus-site work, but that hinges on:
- California COVID-19 policies and guidelines
- The university’s testing capacity and space management
- Merced County’s ability to keep COVID-19 under control
Please continue to do your part to protect your health and the health of others. Our combined efforts will profoundly affect how much of the campus we can use in the future.
How We’re Doing Our Part
In a collection of videos planned by the Marketing team, faculty members talk about efforts to advance COVID-19 research that sheds more light on the viral disease’s mysteries. In the debut video, Assistant Professor Lace Padilla describes how science communication through data visualization plays an important role during the pandemic.
Building Stronger Links in Food Supply Chain
The coronavirus pandemic disrupted the flow of food from Central Valley farms to stores and restaurants. UC Merced researchers are working with agriculture and community leaders to build supply chains that are more resilient and equitable. Their work will address not only the pandemic upheaval but the persistent problem of food and water insecurity in under-represented populations. “A Fork in theRoad” is the latestepisode of Building the Future | A Docuseries, which explores how research of today impacts the world of tomorrow.
SBDC Tosses a Lifeline to Central California Businesses
Curbside pickups, home deliveries and innumerable “closed” signs have become the norm as the coronavirus pandemic pummels the U.S. economy. Behind many of these changes are business owners struggling to keep the lights on. UC Merced’s Small Business Development Center (SBDC) has been a much-needed source of economic support and business advice.
In May, UC Merced received $2.5 million in additional funding through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief,and Economic Security Act (CARES Act). “The CARES funding has been instrumental in allowing us to serve our local businesses during a really critical time,” SBDC Director Kurtis Clark said. “We’ve had an astounding increase in the number of clients seeking our help.”
In the early stages of the pandemic –from March 1 through May 31 –the number of clients counseled by SBDC tripled compared to the same period in 2019, and the number of small businesses that received funding increased more than seven-fold.
UC Merced has hosted Central California SBDC since 2003. There are six service centers that cover 14 California counties.
Like many of its clients, the SBDC closed its physical office in downtown Merced in mid-March. The staff continue to provide the center’s services with Zoom meetings and webinars.
UC Merced, Merced College Educating Community on COVID-19
UC Merced and Merced College have joined forces to help inform the community about healthy and protective practices during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Do Your Part campaign is spreading the word through social media and web marketing, along with signs posted at businesses around Merced. “We cannot think of our institutions as islands, but as profoundly intertwined with our community,” UC Merced Chancellor Juan Sánchez Muñoz and Merced College President Chris Vitelli said in a joint message. “We have families here. We eat here, we shop here, and we enjoy recreation and entertainment here.” The leaders urged everyone in the Merced community to wear masks, maintain a safe distance from each other, and stay home if they develop symptoms or encounter someone showing signs of COVID-19.“We believe in the promise of Merced,” Muñoz and Vitelli said, “and we believe the spirit of Merced will persevere through this crisis.”
For Students, COVID Hits Some Harder Than Others
One student was working overtime to support a family. Another was worried about being able to get food. Another lived in a pandemic hotspot and was concerned for their safety. COVID-19 is magnifying, or piling onto, burdens borne by young people from underrepresented communities. When UC Merced sociology Professor Whitney Pirtle reached out to her students – by laptop, since in-person instruction is still not safe – she asked about stressors. What were they dealing with? "I adore and admire my students," Pirtle said. "I'm really glad they show up." COVID-19 case rates are nearly three times higher for Black and Latinx people than for whites, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The disparity points to underlying conditions such as access to health care and socioeconomic status. As the months of the pandemic pile up, mental health is an increasing concern, with the same disparities in play. "Stress in general is not evenly distributed," Pirtle said. "Even though everybody is really stressed out by pandemic for a variety of reasons, the equity aspect would suggest that people in more vulnerable positions have an increased amount of stress burden right now." In many cases, increased family responsibilities such as taking care of siblings or working longer hours squeeze the time available to learn. "Blacks, Latinx and other people of color have more risk factors," Pirtle said. "Their role expands beyond being just a young student nervous about the pandemic." Pirtle, who in October was named to the prestigious MacArthur Foundation Chair in International Justice and Human Rights, also keeps in touch with students through the AFRO Hall Living Learning Community. There are several LLCs, which have face-to-face roots but have been reconfigured for the remote environment. LLCs, along with health programs such as Counseling & Psychological Services and the new Bobcat Den community, offer students a way to monitor their emotions and connect with instructors and each other. However, it's difficult to equal the power of in-person connections. "Our students can't just center a (virtual) classroom and shut out everything that's going on," Pirtle said. "When students unmute themselves in our Zoom conversations, they are opening up their lives to us. We must move forward with empathy."