Coronavirus response: Updates for students living on campus

UC Berkeley Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Stephen Sutton sent the following message to residents of on-campus housing units on Thursday:

We understand that many students are still considering whether they want to remain in campus-operated student housing for the remainder of the semester. We are writing to provide you with updated information about what we anticipate the conditions in our resident housing may be, based upon the most current public health information available to the campus.

We are committed to supporting all of our students through this outbreak, especially those who remain in campus residence halls and apartments. This information is concerning, but we want you to know the latest information, so that you can make an informed decision about your housing situation to the extent that you have choices. We fully appreciate that for many of you, leaving campus housing is not an option.  For those of you who do have the option to move, you can find information about relief from the financial obligations of your housing agreements on the Housing Move Out/COVID-19 webpage. You can also find the form needed to be relieved from your financial obligations under your housing agreement here. Yesterday, the head of the UC Health System advised students who are able to make the choice to move out of the residence halls should do so in order to enable social distancing protocols for those who need to remain.

We have confirmed with the City of Berkeley Public Health Department that it is not a violation of the shelter-in-place order to move out of campus housing.

Exposure to COVID-19

We do not anticipate that every campus environment can be managed to avoid exposing people to COVID-19, given what public health authorities have told the public about the existing conditions of widespread community transmission of the virus in the Bay Area. As you probably know, testing is not widely available in the Bay Area. The virus has already become so prevalent that public health authorities believe that if testing were available, testing would reveal that many of us have already been exposed to this virus. That includes the people who live near you, the residential staff that support your residential experience, and the dedicated people who prepare and serve your meals and clean your facilities.

The primary public health strategy is now mitigation: reducing exposure by rigorous compliance with social distancing recommendations, regular handwashing and extra care to avoid unnecessary contact with our most vulnerable populations. This is most effective when followed by all of us as individuals.  Local public health authorities are no longer tracing contacts between people who test positive and others except in exceptional circumstances. We want to prepare you for the reality that the dense living conditions of campus housing make it inevitable that you will be told that that people living in and supporting campus housing have tested positive.

It is also inevitable that students who become sick with COVID-19 but are not ill enough to require hospitalization will need to self-isolate in campus residence halls or apartments. We have a limited ability to house these students off campus, but we anticipate that those off-campus resources will be exhausted quickly as more people become ill. Inevitably, students who are ill will be living in some proximity to students who are well. We will, of course, provide as much physical distance as we can between students who are ill and those who are not ill, and implement other measures to avoid exposure to people who are ill, as much as we are able.

Dining

The campus is attempting to move as quickly as possible to provide boxed and to-go meals, instead of serving food in dining halls. You should expect that in the future, residents may not be permitted to sit and eat together. While taking your meal to go is currently available, switching to boxed meals only will be a challenging goal to achieve. Reconfiguring our dining operation in this manner is not simple. We are concerned that as staff become ill, we will not have enough people to support the labor-intensive effort necessary to prepare individual meals. Everyone on the globe is attempting to buy the supplies necessary to provide meals to go, at a time when production of those materials has been slowed by the impacts of the virus.

It may therefore be necessary, in order for us to provide for appropriate social distancing, for us to assign you to a staggered meal time, or require you to eat in your room, or outdoors, or otherwise manage your dining experience in a manner that is not convenient for you. We will be flexible if your assigned meal time conflicts with a time you need to be online for a class.

Housing assignments

Depending upon how many people move out of campus housing, and how many people become ill, it is possible that you will be required to move to another unit, possibly more than once. If this is necessary we commit to you that it will be accomplished in an orderly way, in accordance with the recommendations of public health authorities.

We acknowledge that this information will add to your anxiety during what is an already stressful time. It is our goal to share as much information as we have as quickly as possible so you can make decisions that are right for you. Please take advantage of these campus resources for support.