Large events return to UC Berkeley, students express concern

photo of the inside of memorial stadium
William Webster /Staff
With large-scale events reopening to the UC Berkeley community, some students are concerned about the lack of mask mandates and overall guidelines to ensure attendants' safety.

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When campus freshman David Gonzalez saw the number of students crowding indoors at Caltopia two weeks ago, he became concerned about the lack of COVID-19 precautions at the two-day event.

Gonzalez noted that there was no limitation to how long students could gather in the Recreational Sports Facility, where parts of Caltopia took place, and that one of his friends even tested positive for COVID-19 following the event.

As UC Berkeley returns to in-person instruction this semester, Gonzalez and other students have expressed concerns about such large-scale events — both on- and off-campus — that often generate crowds of students and potentially pose unsafe conditions amid the pandemic.

“They’ve done a good job on having a lot of outdoor activities, but Caltopia was just one of those events that was a large crowd of individuals that crowded in one specific area,” Gonzalez said. “I do my part in only going to outdoor activities instead of the indoor ones.”

Campus alumnus Eric Herrmann added in an email that he has “mixed feelings” about having large on-campus events during the pandemic. Herrmann said he attended the in-person graduation for the class of 2020, where masks were optional and few social distancing efforts were put in place.

Herrmann said in an email that he feels campus could have done more to prevent possible COVID-19 transmission at the graduation, such as postponing the event or requiring proof of vaccination for attendees.

Cal Athletics spokesperson Herb Benenson noted that masks are required indoors and are optional but strongly encouraged outdoors. Fans attending football games are also recommended to get tested beforehand.

Benenson added that everyone in indoor spaces at football games will now be required to show proof of vaccination. This comes after campus issued guidance Sept. 9 that directs certain indoor spaces to require this proof.

“We want to remind everyone that our high vaccination rates … and indoor mask mandates should address some of the safety concerns individuals may have,” said Guy Nicolette, University Health Services assistant vice chancellor, in an email.

However, Gonzalez said many students disregard safety recommendations from campus both at on-campus events and fraternity parties.

Off-campus events are the primary source of positive COVID-19 cases as individuals who attend are typically eating and drinking indoors without wearing masks, Nicolette noted.

Nicolette added that students should take into account the risk of exposure when deciding to attend large events.

“With so many students back on campus and participating in campus life, it is to be expected that Individuals on campus will test positive for COVID,” Nicolette said in an email. “This has occurred and will continue to occur. Thanks to our high vaccination rates, none of the cases so far have involved serious illness.”

Contact Emma Taila at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @emmataila