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Why UC Berkeley plans to resume in-person instruction this fall

"In just two weeks we will resume in-person instruction on a large scale for the first time since the pandemic began," leaders write. "This transition is being met with both excitement and trepidation."

the sun shining through the fiat lux logo on sather gate
Berkeley's fourth comprehensive capital campaign, Light the Way: The Campaign for Berkeley, is one of the largest launched by any U.S. university, public or private. (UC Berkeley photo by Keegan Houser)

Chancellor Carol Christ and Catherine Koshland, the interim executive vice chancellor and provost, sent the following message to the campus community on Thursday:

In just two weeks we will resume in-person instruction on a large scale for the first time since the pandemic began. This transition is being met with both excitement and trepidation. We know that this is a challenging time for some and want to take a moment to address some of the concerns we’re hearing and hopefully help put your mind at ease.

We encourage you to visit the campus coronavirus site regularly for the latest updates. The return to campus section has some new additions, including an updated matrix of requirements for accessing campus, information about what happens if someone tests positive for COVID-19, updated guidance for instructors and a summary of current plans for instruction.

Since the early days of the pandemic, we have been slowly transitioning back to close to normal operations. This started with the resumption of the most essential research under strict public health protocols. As we continued to ramp up essential research, we added outdoor instruction and other activities. With the widespread availability of vaccines, we were able to welcome back faculty and staff earlier this summer and lift additional restrictions. Over the next few weeks, we will welcome back additional students and increase our in-person offerings even more. This transition won’t be over until 100% of courses are held in person.

As we’ve learned more about the SARS-CoV-2 virus and how it spreads, we’ve been able to resume in-person activities while mitigating the spread of COVID-19. We will continue to learn and adjust our response based on the latest science and public health guidance.

Innovate, adapt

Over the past year and a half, we’ve worked hard to deliver a high-quality UC Berkeley education in ways we never thought possible. While we’re proud of how our faculty, staff and students have innovated and adapted to the challenges of the pandemic, we’re returning to in-person instruction because the connectivity and common experiences afforded by campus presence are essential for building, strengthening and maintaining a robust and inclusive university culture that supports our innovative work as a student-centered, research-focused and service-oriented university.

A portrait of Chancellor Christ shows her smiling at the camera weaing a blue jacket.

“we’re proud of how our faculty, staff and students have innovated and adapted to the challenges of the pandemic,” Chancellor Carol Christ (above) and Catherine Koshland, the interim executive vice chancellor and provost, wrote in a message to the campus community. (UC Berkeley photo by Keegan Houser)

In order to deliver a robust offering of in-person instruction, we must make it our default. Simultaneously delivering in-person and remote learning is incredibly challenging. Except in certain circumstances when technology makes it easier to provide a remote complement to in-person instruction, we’re only asking instructors to deliver instruction either in-person or remotely, not both.

‘We recognize that some of you are nervous’

We recognize that some of you are nervous about returning to campus. We want to assure you that we are taking these concerns into account in our planning. We will always place our commitment to the health and well-being of our community first, including the most vulnerable within our campus population.

It’s important to note the difference that vaccines have made in our response to the pandemic. The COVID-19 vaccines are truly remarkable and continue to be the best way to protect ourselves against the virus, especially against serious illness, hospitalization and death. And the vaccination rate within our campus community is extraordinary. We’re quickly approaching our target of a 90% vaccination rate across all groups and these percentages are climbing each day.

There is some evidence that the delta variant is causing increases in breakthrough infections and long-haul COVID-19 symptoms. Fully vaccinated individuals are also passing the virus to others, but there is still a lot that we do not know. It continues to be true that the vast majority of new cases are in individuals who are not vaccinated. And the spread of COVID-19 to children is mostly from the unvaccinated as well.

At this time, public health restrictions and advisories that previously prevented us from operating an in-person university have been lifted. There is no recommendation from the public health community that we limit offerings of in-person instruction, as was the case prior to the availability of the vaccine. Given the vaccination rates within our campus community, the vaccine mandate and our current face covering requirement, we continue to be confident in our plans for the fall semester.

‘We stand ready to pivot’

That said, we are watching new developments very closely, and will continue to do so. We stand ready to pivot to remote instruction should public health conditions require us to do so. The resilience we have built over the past few years amid power outages, wildfire smoke and a global pandemic is nothing short of remarkable and it enables this flexibility.

If you need to request a reasonable accommodation related to a medical condition or disability, please review the processes for students, staff and academic appointees.

We also want to remind you about CA Notify. We strongly encourage you to activate COVID-19 exposure notifications on your smartphone. While we will continue to engage in manual contact tracing, CA Notify will greatly improve our ability to make meaningful exposure notifications. And unlike in the spring, if you are a close contact of someone who tests positive for COVID-19, you will be required to quarantine only if you are symptomatic or unvaccinated.

A close-up photo of University Health Services infection control manager Lisa Polley readying a syringe for the vaccine clinic in Pauley Ballroom at the MLK Jr. Student Union. She's wearing a Cal face mask and purple protective gloves.

COVID-19 vaccines are completely free and readily available on campus and in the community. (Photo by Brittany Hosea-Small)

The University of California vaccine policy is now in effect for UC Berkeley. Vaccines are completely free and readily available on campus and in the community. If you were vaccinated off-campus, you must upload your vaccination record to eTang. If you haven’t yet been able to get vaccinated, you will have an opportunity to get vaccinated once you arrive. You can find more information on the Return to Campus website.

As has been the case throughout the pandemic, we will need to be ready to adapt as the situation continues to evolve. Our plans are contingent upon public health conditions at the time of their implementation and are subject to change.

Thank you for your flexibility and understanding during this time. The pandemic has challenged us in so many ways and we continue to be humbled and inspired by the way our campus has stepped up to these challenges.