Hello everyone and Happy New Year!
The February 2022 Cal Bar (and to some extent, the UBE) applicant pool are wondering about the impact of the Omicron variant on the administration of the February 2022 Bar Exam. Here’s what we know:
The Cal Bar has issued four updates to its FAQ document since October 1 (12/1, 12/14, 12/17, and 1/3). The updates have mainly focused on what kinds of testing applicants need to take to take the exam in person (e.g., as of 1/6: vaccination by 2/8, negative PCR test between 2/20 – 2/22, or negative antigen test between 2/21 and 2/22).
To date, as of 1/6, the Cal Bar has not changed a syllable of its FAQ #1, which indicates that we are returning to normal (e.g., party like it’s 2017, in person exam, paper materials for essays and PTs, scratch paper).
However, the big question is whether the Cal Bar will indeed remain an in-person exam for February 2022. If the Cal Bar decided to go remote a la October 2020/Feb. 2021/July 2021, when would it need to make this decision? Who approves this decision? And how does a student prepare with all this uncertainty in the meantime?
Here’s what we know for now. Disclaimer: at Cal I was a history major, not epidemiology, immunology and not public health. And no, don’t rely on this blog post to your detriment. Your exam, not mine, personal responsibility, folks.
The lay opinion from a history major suggests that everything around us looks terrible in terms of trends from the Omicron variant. Examples:
- Omicron numbers are doubling in LA county every 2 days per the LA Times
- LA County is suspending criminal trials for two weeks per the LA Times
- 8 UC campuses have delayed in-person classes and have gone remote for 2-3 weeks (for now).
- My law school (UC Hastings) announced on December 23 that we were going back in person on January 10. Seven days later, on December 30, Hastings announced that we were going to have most courses on Zoom for 3 weeks, with in-person classes currently slated to resume on January 31.
- 8 Cal State schools have delayed in-person education and will begin school on Zoom, per the LA Times. Long Beach State, for example, will begin school on January 20 and operate via Zoom for 3 weeks. That means in-person operations will begin no earlier than February 10.
- Requirements for return to in-person operations have intensified, not reduced. For example, students and staff at many schools are required to have booster shots, not merely one or two shots as appropriate, to set foot on campus.
- More than 70% of coronavirus cases in LA county were among adults younger than 50 for Dec. 22-28, per the LA Times.
- Rates among youngest adults (18-29) are 8x higher than they were one month ago. Adults in the 30-40 year old range are 6x as high as per the LA Times. Guess what the ages are of the typical Cal Bar applicant?
- The Grammy’s (an indoor event with a lot of people seated near each other for a few hours) were cancelled.
- Sporting events have been postponed
That said, is Omicron less serious than the prior surges of COVID-19? Seemingly. Yes, Omicron is far more transmissible than prior forms of COVID-19. But cases generally seem less severe. Fewer deaths. Hospital beds aren’t filling up as quickly. According to the LA Times, Omicron appears to be “more infectious to the airways, but less infectious to lung tissue, where infections contribute to respiratory problems and death.”
And as reported on January 1 in the LA Times, COVID-19 patient hospitalizations jumped 48% from a week prior, but those 5,433 patients are a fraction of the 20,640 who were hospitalized in early January 2021, and the all-time peak was 21,938 on January 6. Hospitalizations have risen most dramatically in the last month in So Cal and in the Bay Area (double the rate), while Sacramento’s count increased 30%.
According to Bob Wachter from UCSF, supposedly Omicron should peak around mid-January and then recede relatively quickly.
Note the recommendations from state and local officials. Per the LA Times on January 1, state and local officials “have indicated no need for new orders closing certain businesses or mandating people to stay at home, but they have looked at bolstering requirements in certain settings for vaccinations or negative coronavirus tests.”
And the California Department of Public Health, really the final arbiter in our state on decisions about in-person v. remote events, announced a new order on December 31 that requires “those at indoor events with 500 or more attendees to show either proof of full vaccination or a recent negative test to enter. The order will go into effect Jan. 15. Currently, only indoor events with 1,000 or more attendees are subject to the requirement.”
In other words, businesses aren’t shutting down. People aren’t being forced to stay at home (except for undergrad and grad students at certain California schools).
So… what are the logistics moving forward?
My guess is that if the trends continue that the Cal Bar Exam COULD be moved to a remote exam and not conducted in person. That’s my guess, and that’s not informed by any inside information. I think if the move to a remote exam occurs, it would need to occur between January 15 – 31 so that students can find places outside their home (if needed) to take the exam. Living in a loud area, too many people living with you to realistically take the exam in a quiet area, internet not reliable at home, etc. Law schools would need to prepare to allow former students to take the exam there as needed. Etc.
The Cal Bar would need to consult with the California Dept. of Public Health (especially if the CA DPH forces the exam to go remote), the Cal Bar must make a recommendation to go remote, and ultimately, the Cal Supreme Court must issue an order to hold the exam remotely. I hope that these entities are already consulting with each other and that a decision is made soon about what to do. Students deserve to know as soon as possible if the exam is in-person come what may, or if the exam will be remote. A January 15-31 window is responsible. A Valentine’s Day surprise would be difficult to implement logistically I would think.
As a Bar applicant, what should you do? Prepare for both options NOW. The registration deadline has passed. So that means if you’re taking this exam, you have an exam site. If the exam site is in person, great. If the exam goes remote, what are you going to do? Where are you going to go? Start developing that plan NOW. Take the exam at home? Going to a law school? Taking the exam at a hotel? Local law library? Public library? Figure it out. NOW. Don’t wait.
What about practicing exams? For MBEs, take some questions online for practice. For essays, you can get exams online and practice them online from the Bar’s site or my stie. Same with the PTs.
Don’t wait until the last minute. Have plans for in-person vs. remote about where you’ll take the test. Practice on hardcopy and online so that regardless of how you’ll take the exam, it won’t be a shocking event to you. Stocks going down 20 points, not 2000 points.
Hang in there! Happy 2022 everyone!