UC Berkeley reopens 15 research buildings, plans to open more

Berkeley Lab
Sally Dowd/File

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The return of research at UC Berkeley is underway, with 30 research buildings planned to open by the end of June, campus administration said.

UC Berkeley Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Paul Alivisatos, Vice Chancellor for Administration Marc Fisher and Vice Chancellor for Research Randy Katz, along with campus researchers Susan Marqusee and Maximilian Auffhammer, discussed fall semester planning for research Tuesday as a part of UC Berkeley’s campus conversations about fall 2020 plans.

According to Katz, there are now 15 large buildings open on campus for low-density active research. He added that campus expects to have a total of about 30 research buildings open by the end of June.

Fisher gave updates on the frequency of cleaning and the safety precautions taken before reopening each building.

“This is complicated. We’re trying to keep people healthy, maintain research on the campus, which we know is critical — it’s part of who we are,” Fisher said at the event. “We’re trying to think through what it means to add students back into the mix.”

Fisher said the Emergency Operations Center worked closely with Stanley Hall, one of the reopened buildings, to mount hand sanitizer dispensers in accordance with guidelines from fire marshals in order to keep the building clean and secure. The center also developed directions on which staircases to use when entering or exiting a building and guidelines telling visitors where to stand and wait.

Cleaning standards have also been raised from level four to level two, Fisher added, meaning buildings will now be cleaned twice a day. He said UC Berkeley may have to hire up to 100 additional custodians for campus, even though it only plans to open 80% of campus space.

Marqusee is part of a task force on how to safely reopen labs, which was created about two months ago and works with campus faculty members when they request access back into a lab.

Each individual building works as a unit with the building oversight committee and creates guidelines for how its individual communities will work. Marqusee added that the researchers are working at about 20% capacity right now.

“We’ve read all the proposals and operating procedures from the labs as they come in, and it was really wonderful,” Marqusee said during the event. “People take this very seriously.”

In response to a question about the possibility of future flare-ups of COVID-19, Marqusee said campus has contact tracers. She added that living with that uncertainty is necessary, as is wearing a mask to protect yourself.

Auffhammer provided insight from humanities researchers, who do most of their work in an office setting rather than a lab.

If possible, he said, researchers should do their work from home, as there is still no vaccine for COVID-19.

“We are following right behind the lab-based research spaces to come up with processes that are parallel and simpler to allow the reopening of some of the bigger buildings with office space, once the city of Berkeley gives the go-ahead,” Auffhammer said.

Contact Dina Katgara at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @dinakatgara.