Dear Campus Community,
After ongoing consultation with campus leadership and Merced County Public Health officials, we have determined that classes will be canceled Friday, Nov. 16, and the campus will be closed except for essential operations such as dining and housing. The health center will be open in the morning, and anyone experiencing respiratory issues is encouraged to call 911.
In assessing these decisions, we monitor in real time two air quality measures: Air Quality Index (AQI) and the PM2.5 scale. The AQI was developed by public health officials to inform the public of various health risks and precautions related to air quality; it measures things like ground-level ozone, particle pollution (also known as particulate matter), carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide. The PM2.5 scale is more specific to air particulate matter — tiny particles in the air that are two and one half microns or less in width.
Each of these scales is correlated with specific health advisories, and these advisories as well as consultation with local public health officials are critical factors in determining whether to cancel classes or close campus, and in the health advisories that we provide to the campus community. Both indexes include ranges labeled as “unhealthy” and “very unhealthy.”
In both cases, the “unhealthy” designation recommends that children, the elderly and those with lung diseases and other ailments avoid prolonged or heavy outdoor exertion — on the PM2.5 scale, people with heart conditions are included in this group. The “very unhealthy” designation recommends that even healthy people avoid outdoor exertion, and because outdoor exertion is required to walk to campus buildings, this is the criterion we use to determine whether to close campus.
The air quality forecast for Thursday had showed Merced County in the “unhealthy” range on both indexes. Late this morning, though, our AQI and PM2.5 both spiked rapidly into the “very unhealthy” range, and it was at this point that we decided to cancel classes and close the campus.
While Friday’s forecast is also in the “unhealthy” range, it seems likely that we will again reach the “very unhealthy” distinction. For this reason, we have decided to proactively apply the same criteria and close the campus. We expect to resume normal operations on Monday, Nov. 19, but we will inform the campus community of any updates. Those concerned about changes to air quality throughout the day can find hourly updates from the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District.
The closure applies to all campus locations. Staff members performing essential services should consult with their supervisors regarding operational needs. Dining Services and Housing and Residence Life operations will continue. Academic buildings will be closed except to those with CatCard access. Employees will be compensated for their time tomorrow.
Thank you for your patience and understanding as we work to ensure the health and well-being of our campus community, and please continue to keep those most affected by this tragedy in your thoughts.