UC Berkeley launches initiative for potential fall reopening

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UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health is launching an initiative aimed at safely facilitating the reopening of campus in fall amid the COVID-19 pandemic, campus announced May 19.

A team led by Arthur Reingold, campus division head of epidemiology and biostatistics, and Maya Petersen, a campus associate professor of biostatistics and epidemiology, is set to collaborate on the Berkeley COVID-19 Safe Campus Initiative with University Health Services; the campus Division of Computing, Data Science and Society, or CDSS; the Innovative Genomics Institute; and local public health authorities to establish a system of measuring infection rates and developing mitigation strategies on campus.

The initiative, which began development in March under the direction of UC Berkeley School of Public Health Dean Michael Lu, initially focused on resuming campus public health research operations but has since expanded to study others at risk of infection in the campus community, including clinic and janitorial staff, Reingold said.

According to Reingold, the initiative will consist of linked studies focusing on three groups, including undergraduate students and staff, as well as another group consisting of faculty members, graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and other researchers.

Current plans project the enrollment of approximately 4,000 individuals in the studies, Reingold said. He added that the initiative found particular interest among studying undergraduate students, especially those living in Alameda and Contra Costa counties for summer 2020.

Reingold said the initiative is awaiting approval from the UC Berkeley Committee for Protection of Human Subjects in order to begin the studies’ recruitment process. Approval and subsequent recruitment is expected to occur by the end of next week and will hinge on voluntary participation in the studies, according to Reingold. Once enrolled, participants will undergo regular medical monitoring, including a blood test for antibodies.

“(Participants) would be additionally enrolled at University Health Service facilities, where we would take a swab to test for the coronavirus,” Reingold said. “The next few months, we would ask them to do things like take their temperatures each morning, report to us about symptoms, (and) we would gather information about some of their social interactions.”

Reingold added that the initiative is centered on close collaboration among members of the campus community, including Vice Chancellor for Research Randy Katz and his office, Cal Athletics and campus programs working extensively with undergraduates and summer undergraduate housing.

The initiative will also focus on a multidisciplinary approach, with communication and research being coordinated among various partners, including graduate students and staff.

“We’re particularly proud of the fact that this is truly a multidisciplinary activity involving incredibly diverse parts of the campus,” Reingold said.

CDSS is working to provide reliable data for the initiative and centering its efforts around connecting people across campus, according to CDSS Associate Dean for Research Kathy Yelick.

Results of the initiative and the concurrent summer studies are expected to inform the outcome of fall semester, according to University Health Services Assistant Vice Chancellor Guy Nicolette.

Nicolette added that the initiative’s COVID-19 testing and tracing plan is necessary in shaping campus operations, including whether in-person classroom instruction and residence hall living, as well as staff and faculty operations, can resume.

“We are hopeful that the work being led by School of Public Health researchers will inform our recovery planning and ultimately underpin our successful return to campus,” Nicolette said in an email.

Contact Hanna Lykke at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @hannaathearstDC.