UC Berkeley experienced a lower number of COVID-19 cases after students returned from spring break compared to when they returned from winter break despite similar policies, such as mandatory self-sequestering, in place.
Differences in student behavior are likely one of the reasons for the reduction in COVID-19 cases, according to campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore.
The policies following spring break included a mandatory 10-day self-sequester period for all students in residential halls, which took place from March 26 through at least April 8. Students also had to take a COVID-19 surveillance test upon returning and then continue to get tested twice a week, added campus spokesperson Adam Ratliff.
The protocols were announced in an email from the Cal Housing Office, which also encouraged students to avoid traveling during the break. Gilmore noted that while many universities canceled spring break, UC Berkeley decided to keep it in place to support students’ mental health.
“To help mitigate any travel-related spread, we encouraged students to stay local and enjoy activities in the Bay Area and we set up the various testing and sequestration protocols for residential hall students,” Gilmore said in an email.
Individual students and student groups who did not comply with the campus policies could face disciplinary actions, including being denied access to campus and the loss of the group’s official registration, according to Ratliff.
Ratliff emphasized that campus’s main approach was to “develop social norms around following public health guidelines,” and that most students have been taking the necessary protocols to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.
While vaccines have become available to more students, Gilmore noted this was not the only difference between winter and spring break. She added that students gathering off-campus contributed to the surge in January and February despite similar policies being in place at the time.
“It is certainly possible that both of these factors contributed to keeping the case increases smaller than after winter break,” Gilmore said in an email. “It is unlikely, however, that a large percentage of healthy college students are fully vaccinated, so behavioral factors likely played a role as well.”
Following winter break, the increase in COVID-19 cases among residential hall students led campus to enforce an extended sequester period, which included a ban on outdoor exercise. The self-sequester after spring break, however, did allow students to exercise alone outdoors.
Campus is still requiring students in on-campus housing to get tested twice a week and follow public health protocols, according to Ratliff. The University Health Services webpage noted that students who are vaccinated and living in residential halls also have to get tested once a week.
“It is important that students continue to follow safe practices given that we have yet to reach herd immunity in the campus community or the state,” Gilmore said in an email.