With 148 positive cases being recorded by University Health Services for the week of Jan. 24, UC Berkeley is experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases among students.
The surge is believed to be caused by small gatherings of students off-campus, according to campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore. Students living in residence halls have been instructed to sequester in their rooms beginning Monday through Feb. 8.
“Everyone needs to follow best safety practices and follow public health orders,” Gilmore said in an email. “Protecting our campus community and the broader community should be everyone’s goal.”
Gilmore stressed that even if members of a group are asymptomatic or have recently tested negative, it is still possible that the gathering is unsafe.
Many students have expressed anger toward those who are participating in prohibited gatherings. Campus sophomore Yulissa Oceguera Barragan pointed to freshmen as a group that has been violating COVID-19 restrictions.
“I believe that many first-year students came to Berkeley during this remote semester for the ‘college experience,’ ” Barragan said via Twitter message. “Unfortunately, partying and socializing with friends is seen as part of that experience.”
Some students have blamed the rise in COVID-19 cases on events hosted by Greek life.
Among those who believe alleged CalGreek gatherings have led to “super spreader” events is a student who lives off-campus and would like to remain anonymous due to privacy concerns.
“I was personally exposed to COVID-19 because my housemate decided to go to a frat party without telling me and then also failed to mask or quarantine after she went to the party,” the anonymous student said in an email.
According to Gilmore, campus has repeatedly emphasized to CalGreek organizations that all events must take place virtually rather than in person.
ASUC President Victoria Vera, however, said students should not place the blame solely on Greek life and instead should focus on collective action.
“I know a lot of people have anger towards Greek life right now,” Vera said. “I’m not going to say that’s misplaced in any way but the focus of the cause cannot solely be Greek life. We collectively need to combat COVID-19.”
People gathering in small groups is just as impactful as parties in terms of COVID-19 spread, according to Vera.
Vera also pointed out how the burden of COVID-19 is being placed on residential assistants, or RAs.
Barragan and Vera said RA personal safety has been endangered by students who fail to follow COVID-19 guidelines. They also argued that student workers such as RAs should be more of a priority for getting vaccinated by campus.
Gilmore expressed hope that the educational campaigns to the campus community will work to prevent gatherings and flatten the curve.
“Not gathering with others outside of your household is a public health order, in addition to the right thing to do,” Gilmore said in an email. “We will continue to work with the student community to encourage and support them in that effort.”