For many UC Berkeley students, further developments in vaccines and preventative measures against COVID-19 originally seemed to offer hope for a return to “normalcy” during the 2022 spring semester. Now, as the omicron variant of the virus rages through the country, ASUC officials worry that a lack of care could lead to a devastating campus outbreak.
In an email sent Wednesday, campus officials updated students on their plans for the spring semester, an announcement that followed UC President Michael Drake’s approval for university campuses to go remote for the beginning of their next semester or quarter. Seven UC campuses have already announced their intention to start the term remotely to avoid the spread of COVID-19.
Campus, however, still plans for instruction to begin in person Jan. 18. According to the email, campus officials emphasize three primary strategies to address the new variant: increasing vaccinations and recommending booster shots, testing measures and continuation of the indoor face-covering mandate.
“We do not expect to rely significantly upon remote instruction or large-scale cancellation of in-person activities,” the email reads.
ASUC Senator Jason Dones said he was “relieved” to see spring plans remain unchanged, calling the spring semester an opportunity for the campus community to reconnect. He said he hoped to continue work to make mental health services more available for students as the pandemic continues.
Meanwhile, Academic Affairs Vice President James Weichert said sending the email as other UC campuses announced their plans was a “good call” but felt it was too early to make any plans for starting the semester in person.
He added students traveling, potential failure to properly quarantine and the unique characteristics of the omicron variant all pose a risk to campus as the semester starts.
“We’re still at this ‘edge of the cliff’ moment that we’ve had a couple times, where we don’t know what’s over that cliff,” Weichert said. “In my mind, the safest way to proceed is to ease in gradually.”
Weichert said his office would be pushing for campus to mandate additional testing for all students as well as testing on arrival back to campus. Similarly, ASUC Senator Stephanie Wong said her office was hoping to provide incentives for students to be tested on a weekly basis.
Remaining flexible is the best option to keep campus safe, according to Wong, who said she had a “mixed” reaction to hearing campus’s plans.
“While I am very pleased that we will not be returning to an online format for the entirety of the spring semester, I do feel strongly that these measures are not sufficient for the scale of omicron,” Wong said.
Wong noted the “relaxation” of preventative measures and attitudes over the fall semester as some students began to feel safer, adding that such relaxation would be dangerous during the spring semester.
Students should continue wearing masks, getting tested weekly and making “smart personal choices” about what events to attend, according to Wong. She added her office would be working with Registered Student Organizations to set up COVID-19 policies and contact tracing measures in early January.
“(A weekly test) takes only two minutes to schedule,” Wong said. “Doing it on a consistent basis helps with the data, helps with contact tracing and helps us to localize where an outbreak might have been.”