Absences due to COVID-19 isolation cause concern for UC Berkeley students

Photo of people walking on upper sproul
Can Jozef Saul/Staff
Students shown walking through Sproul Plaza. Long-term absences due to self-isolation are causing students to feel concerned about attendance policies.

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Self-isolation to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and the resulting long-term absences have posed challenges to students — and upcoming travel for the Thanksgiving holiday may add additional risks.

Academic Affairs Vice President James Weichert said the ASUC has received numerous concerns from students about their absences from in-person classes while isolating.

Exposure notifications for asymptomatic students may come as a shock if students are asymptomatic, Weichert noted. A positive test can cause students to forgo at least eight days of in-person academic instruction, he added.

According to ASUC External Affairs Vice President Riya Master, vaccinated students exposed to the virus are not required to self-isolate. Therefore, their instructors may not grant excused absences due to the lack of campus policy support.

Weichert noted campus attendance requirements incentivize students to attend classes, despite signs of symptoms or exposure.

“They will make the choice to come to class because they don’t want to risk the penalty on their grades,” Weichert said.

Many in-person classes and lectures are not available online, according to Weichert. Some instructors direct absent students to attend in-person office hours, while others set up special virtual instruction, both of which burden students and professors, Weichert noted.

Weichert also alleged the lack of infrastructure and communication demonstrates a lack of foresight from campus, leaving instructors and students to “fend for themselves.”

COVID-19 tests conducted on campus have also dropped significantly since the beginning of the semester, according to campus’s Coronavirus Testing Dashboard.

According to University Health Services spokesperson Tami Cate, testing likely fails to show all positive cases on campus.

The recent COVID-19 outbreak among the UC Berkeley football team is one example of case positivity on campus. According to Cate, the team has recently seen decreasing cases and no new cases as of Nov. 9.

Looking forward, Thanksgiving travel will pose a threat to COVID-19 cases on campus.

Cate encourages travelers to take a surveillance test through the UHS three days before their trip and within five days of their return, as well as get a booster shot if eligible and continue to maintain “vigilant” safety measures.

“If possible, it’s best to gather only with fully-vaccinated friends and family and opt against serving food and drink at indoor events during the week following Thanksgiving,” Cate said in an email.

In-person instruction will resume immediately after the holiday, according to Master.

However, Master doubts the effectiveness of campus’s recommendations to ensure safety.

“The campus is choosing to weigh the benefits of in-person classes over the safety of students that will get COVID-19 after the return from break,” Master alleged in an email.

Contact Lily Button at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @lilybutton27.