UC Berkeley, city, state respond to COVID-19 pandemic

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The World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak, more colloquially known as the coronavirus, a pandemic after the total number diagnosed reached 118,000 people worldwide, as of press time.

On March 3, city of Berkeley health officer Dr. Lisa Hernandez announced that a Berkeley resident had been diagnosed with COVID-19 after returning home from abroad. Since then, various organizations nationwide have been strengthening responses to stall COVID-19 transmission, including UC Berkeley canceling nearly all in-person classes beginning March 10 through March 29.

Since then, Cal Day and all other events with more than 100 attendees, including events hosted by Cal Athletics and Cal Performances, have been canceled to prevent the spread of COVID-19, according to a campuswide email from Vice Chancellor of Administration Marc Fisher sent Wednesday. The same email states that a decision has yet to be reached regarding graduation and commencement.

“We understand that for our campus community, including visitors to campus who enjoy these events, the changes may be disappointing and we apologize for any inconvenience,” Fisher said in the campuswide email.

Twenty-four students at the campus Graduate School of Journalism have self-quarantined because of possible exposure to COVID-19 after returning from a conference where an attendee tested “presumptively” positive, according to an email to students from Graduate School of Journalism dean Edward Wasserman.

The docking of the Grand Princess cruise ship Monday also sparked a conversation about those affected by COVID-19 and those in charge of California’s preventative measures. The 3,500-passenger ship docked at the Port of Oakland and held passengers who tested positive for COVID-19.

“The City of Oakland, Alameda County and the Port of Oakland are stepping up in a major way, and their residents deserve universal praise,” said California Gov. Gavin Newsom in a press release.

Newsom declared a state of emergency over the COVID-19 outbreak March 4.

Berkeley Unified School District does not currently plan to close any of its schools, according to a press release from school district superintendent Brent Stephens. Stephens added that BUSD is developing plans to address the possibility of school closures.

A local private elementary and middle school, Black Pine Circle School, closed this week and is planned to reopen March 12, after the family of one student was exposed to the disease and quarantined.

All UC undergraduate campuses except for UC Davis and UC Merced have canceled the majority of in-person classes as of press time.

In a Tuesday press release, UC Davis strongly suggested that faculty use virtual means to teach classes, and canceled in-person events with more than 150 attendees, barring performing arts and UC Davis athletic events. The press release also called off in-person finals. Similarly, UC Merced called for faculty to consider using virtual tools for instruction.

UCSF, while not closed, suspended all gatherings with more than 150 attendees Monday and released updated policies regarding human subject research Wednesday.

Vice Chancellor for Research Randy Katz sent a campuswide email Monday outlining measures the research community should take to prevent the disease’s spread and plan for significant changes in staffing.

Katz asked in the email that all campus labs and research facilities require unwell personnel to stay home, standardize personal hygiene measures and allow “social distancing,” such as spacing researchers out and separating shifts. He also discouraged traveling and attendance of conferences, recommending that researchers cancel or postpone research field trips.

“Individual labs and research facilities are best positioned to create a continuity plan that will meet their unique needs,” Katz said in the email.

By Tuesday, Berkeley City College had also canceled in-person classes, along with the College of Alameda, Laney College and Merritt College, over COVID-19 concerns.

The campus Interfraternity Council, or IFC, announced Wednesday that all IFC events are suspended in response to concerns about COVID-19. According to IFC vice president of risk management Kelly Schulte, the council will continue to monitor the situation to determine whether or not to adjust the length of the suspension.

Cal Athletics announced that only “essential personnel” including student athletes, coaches and sports medicine staff, among others, will be allowed to attend home events beginning Wednesday.

“To help protect at-risk populations and lessen the spread of the rapidly evolving coronavirus situation, attendance at Cal Athletics home events will be limited to essential personnel only, beginning Wednesday,” Cal Athletics said in a press release.

The NCAA also announced that March Madness — or end-of-season men’s and women’s basketball championship tournaments — will be held without most spectators and only certain staff and limited family will be allowed to attend. Pac-12 also announced that it will limit attendance at Pac-12 Tournament games starting with second round games Thursday, and the NBA announced that it canceled the remainder of this season.

The city of Berkeley provided potential COVID-19 outbreak recommendations for businesses Tuesday.

Individuals who own or run a business are advised to adopt policies and practices that support current public health recommendations. The city also advises that in the event of an outbreak, plans should be put in place to support operations during periods of high absenteeism, as a large number of employees could potentially be out sick for an extended period of time and be needed at home to care of sick families.

“We understand that news of a confirmed case within the city of Berkeley is unsettling,” Hernandez said in her announcement. “Please keep in mind that the risk to anyone in the general U.S. population remains low.”

Michael Brust, Sakura Cannestra, Alex Casey, Emily Hom, Kate Finman, Jasper Kenzo Sundeen, Ben Klein, Thao Nguyen, Clara Rodas and Mallika Seshadri contributed to this report.

Contact the newsdesk at [email protected].