Students pass through the Coats Campus Center at Central Oregon Community College in Bend. 

After 15 months of working from home due to COVID-19, the majority of Central Oregon Community College staffers will return to their offices on June 14.

COCC President Laurie Chesley announced Thursday that the community college campuses would partially reopen that day, and many in-person services would resume. The state’s speedy vaccine rollout convinced her to make this decision, she said.

“I think there’s some light at the end of the tunnel around the pandemic, and I really feel hopeful for the future,” Chesley told The Bulletin. “We believe that by mid-June, everyone who wants a vaccine would have time to have it.”

This means the public can run on COCC’s track again. Students can visit their financial aid advisers in-person, instead of over Zoom. And COCC administrators and staffers will work in-person again.

“I am so proud of the way our staff has managed remote work, but there are also advantages that we miss when we can’t be together: the ability to collaborate efficiently, the ability to communicate more effectively,” Chesley said.

However, this announcement doesn’t change COCC’s mostly-remote academic course offerings for summer term, which starts June 21. The college still plans to wait until the fall to dramatically expand its in-person classes, and the Wickiup Residence Hall dorms will also not open until fall term, Chesley wrote in a Thursday email to staff.

It was too late to change the college’s summer course schedule, which will be about 75% online, Chesley told The Bulletin.

“It would be pretty hard at this point to make a big stop and make big changes from online to face-to-face,” she said.

It is also undecided whether the dining hall, or the Mazama Gym & Fitness Center, will be open, due to stricter state COVID-19 regulations for those operations, Chesley said.

COCC staff and students will be heavily encouraged, but not required, to receive the COVID-19 vaccine before returning to campus, Chesley said.

“All the science tells us (the vaccine) is safe, but there are many legal authorities who believe it would be problematic for us to require vaccination,” she said.

Chesley, who’s mostly worked online since March 2020, said she’s thrilled to be permanently back on campus with her colleagues.

“I am so excited to be back and see everyone,” she said.

Andrew Davis, COCC’s director of student life, is also ready to be back in-person with his staff. He said collaborating over Zoom was a challenge.

“Being able to see colleagues face-to-face, have the side conversations organically, will be amazing,” Davis said. “We can hear laughter and have fun banter in the office again.”

Oliver Tatom — a member of the COCC board and an urgent care nurse — said that it made sense for Chesley to bring back staff, now that the vaccine is widely available.

“As long as we continue moving in the direction we’re moving in, which is increasing vaccination rates and low hospitalization and death rates, I think (this decision) is totally reasonable and prudent,” Tatom said. “I trust President Chesley.She has demonstrated a willingness to adjust as the situation changes.”

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