‘Sense of normalcy’: More in-person activities return to UC Berkeley

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As COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to decline, in-person activities are slowly returning to UC Berkeley, restoring a sense of normalcy for students.

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As UC Berkeley plans for the return of in-person classes for the upcoming fall semester, a growing number of campus activities are once again taking place in limited in-person settings.

Moffitt Library reopened for student use Monday for the first time since March 2020. Campus senior April Lee reserved a Tuesday time slot at the library as she said studying at home during the pandemic has been a struggle for her.

“I’m very excited about it,” Lee said. “I feel like I’m getting a sense of normalcy back.”

While Moffitt Library is the most recent space on campus resuming in-person use, limited outdoor instruction has been offered since fall 2020 and indoor pilot classes began Feb. 22, according to campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore. In-person instruction has been largely confined to small seminar, laboratory, studio, clinical, fieldwork and music classes.

Currently, 52 class sections are being offered in indoor settings and at least 50 classes have held outdoor meetings, Gilmore continued. She anticipates these classes — generally limited to fewer than 24 studentswill provide campus with valuable information for a successful return in the upcoming fall semester.

Campus sophomore Zeynep Enson shared similar sentiments.

“I think campus reopening in a limited manner is the best idea because it will help test out waters before we basically fully open up next semester,” Enson said in an email. “It will show the campus leadership how things should be arranged and handled on a larger scale.”

Lee was initially skeptical about the safety of hosting in-person classes but was reassured when she saw the structure of an outdoor music class, with students abiding by public health protocols.

According to Gilmore, no cases of COVID-19 have been traced to in-person instructional activities.

“In its own way, Berkeley is upholding social-distance guidelines even when they are doing in-person classes,” Lee said. “I have no qualms against it. I think they are doing great.”

As Alameda County moves into the less restrictive orange “moderate” tier, campus has additionally approved plans to expand available research space and allow a greater number of people in laboratories, according to a campuswide email. In the coming weeks, recreational sports may also be permitted to resume in the Recreational Sports Facility, given public health conditions and campus guidelines allow.

Campus junior Atharva Mehendale said he was surprised by how much he is looking forward to going to lectures in person again. Both campus’s gradual reopening and being back in Berkeley with friends will have a positive impact on students’ mental health, he said, as many like himself have been confined to spending nearly all day in the same room. 

“The more stuff we try to do in-person, the more normal it will start to seem and the more we can get back to whatever was normal before everything happened,” Mehendale said.

Contact Kaleo Mark at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @kaleomark_dc.