Campus & community, Campus news

An update on UC Berkeley’s plans for the spring semester

By Public Affairs

For the latest information on the campus plans for the spring semester, please visit coronavirus.berkeley.edu .

Chancellor Carol Christ, Catherine Koshland, interim executive vice chancellor and provost and Guy Nicolette, assistant vice chancellor, University Health Services sent the following message to the campus community on Wednesday:

We write to update you on our plans for the spring semester. We continue to monitor the COVID-19 situation closely and have been meeting this week to consider changes to our response. Our decision-making is guided by science and the expertise of our own public health experts. We will continue to monitor the situation throughout the break and communicate any changes as needed.

As we write, there is great uncertainty regarding the omicron variant. Our campus public health committee advises that omicron is much more infectious than prior variants, that omicron will be the dominant variant when instruction resumes on Jan. 18, and that even people who have obtained a booster can be infected with omicron. They remain especially concerned about the impact the pandemic has on those who are immunocompromised or otherwise at higher risk of complications.

Our campus public health committee also advises that people who are vaccinated and have a booster usually have mild or no symptoms after infection. Is the infection also mild in unvaccinated people? Will the coming surge in infection also result in a surge in hospitalizations? We do not yet know. But we expect to know much more in the coming weeks. As has been the case throughout the pandemic, our plans are subject to change based on the latest public health information and guidance.

Presently, the plan is for all classes to be in-person, including those that begin before Jan. 18. Based upon the recommendations of our campus public health committee, and consistent with public health mandates and guidance, we plan to emphasize three primary strategies during the spring semester for responding to omicron: increased vaccination (which includes obtaining boosters), increased testing, and continuation of the indoor face-covering mandate. We do not expect to rely significantly upon remote instruction or large-scale cancellation of in-person activities.

Vaccine boosters

Yesterday, the UC system announced that the current UC COVID-19 vaccination policy requires faculty, staff and students to obtain a booster shot as soon as they are eligible. Our campus expects all faculty, staff and students who are eligible to get their booster no later than the start of instruction on Jan. 18 (or the first day they are on campus if they are in a program that starts before Jan. 18).

Students are reminded that compliance with the vaccination policy is a condition of being physically on campus and that non-compliance can result in discipline. Faculty and staff are reminded that compliance is a condition of employment. Please review the instructions for how to update your vaccination record in eTang with your booster information.

Please note that eligibility for the booster has been expanded. If you got the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, you’re eligible for a booster six months after your last shot. If you got the Johnson & Johnson/Johnson vaccine, you’re eligible two months after you got the shot.

If you were vaccinated abroad with other COVID-19 vaccines you are most likely eligible for a booster as well. See the CDC booster shot eligibility page for more information.

Increased testing

We expect everyone to get tested before returning to work, study, or to live on campus. If you have traveled away from the Bay Area for the break, then we recommend that you get tested before travel; additionally, we expect you to get tested when you return to the Bay Area and before you come to the campus. If you test positive, you must isolate in accordance with the city of Berkeley public health order .

We are working to greatly increase the options for getting tested on campus . You may also be able to access testing through an outside health care provider, through your local health department or by purchasing an at-home test kit. We are attempting to procure tens of thousands of antigen self-tests for you to use to test at home as part of our overall testing strategy.

Our focus will be on making tests easily available and we will not generally require everyone to demonstrate proof of a negative test in order to come to campus. We will however continue, for the time being, all of the mandatory testing of faculty, staff and students that was required during the fall semester.

Face coverings

The expert consensus is that face coverings effectively reduce transmission. We therefore will continue to require their use after curtailment and when instruction resumes. These requirements will be the same as those that were in place at the end of the fall semester.  The campus will continue to seek advice from the public health committee about when to relax this requirement in accordance with the City of Berkeley health department’s requirements.

With regard to ventilation: In order to provide the most inhospitable conditions for transmission, we plan to continue ventilating buildings with the maximum possible amount of outside air for the present time. This means it could be very cold inside during January; we, therefore, ask that you plan to dress accordingly. We appreciate that this is a hardship for many but believe this is the best approach when balancing all of the risks.

Instruction

We’re continuing to plan for fully in-person instruction in the spring. UC Berkeley is a residential campus and our students have repeatedly emphasized their expectation to be able to learn in person. We will make every effort to continue to offer in-person instruction to the extent possible.

We do need to be prepared for the possibility that we may need to pivot to remote learning for brief periods during the semester. For example, if a very large number of faculty, staff and students are all required to isolate at the same time, it may not be practically possible to operate our facilities.

If we find that a remote start to classes is necessary either operationally or due to public health guidance or requirements, we will advise you of that as soon as possible.

Events

We also presently plan to continue to permit in-person events to the extent consistent with CDC guidance and state and city health department requirements. We will consider limiting or canceling large campus events at which vaccination status is not checked as a condition of entry.  We also continue to urge event planners to consider holding events remotely and to enter into contracts that anticipate the possibility of events being canceled or moved online. Event organizers should regularly check for updates to the campus coronavirus events page .

Looking ahead

The return to in-person instruction this past year has been a source of hope and revitalization for many. We are committed to doing everything we can to continue operating in person while taking evidence-based measures to protect our community.

We are incredibly grateful for the efforts of our community to protect one another and are optimistic about the future. We hope you have a restful winter break and wish you a happy new year.