UCOP continues mask protocol in contrast to upcoming campus mask lift

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Caroline Lobel/Staff
In its phased return to on-site staff operations, UCOP continues mask mandate in accordance with public health guidance and its role as an administrative office, unlike campus.

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The University of California Office of the President, or UCOP, announced Feb. 15 that it will continue to reinforce its mask protocol, contrasting with the upcoming end of the UC Berkeley mandate. 

UCOP staff members and visitors will continue to be required to wear masks indoors in all California and Washington, D.C. locations until further notice, according to UCOP spokesperson Ryan King.

“We are at the beginning of our phased return to on-site operations for most staff,” King said in an email. “This will allow UCOP to enroll all on-site staff in our COVID-19 testing program and assess other existing protocols related to the pandemic.”

UCOP’s indoor mask mandate is being utilized to prevent a surge in cases upon returning to on-site locations, King added.

King noted that UCOP is an administrative office that does not serve students or patients. He added that UCOP’s “different organizational environment” causes it to have different protocols than a campus would.

“What makes sense for UCOP may not work for a campus, and vice versa,” King said in the email.

Additional protocols, including physical distancing, regular cleaning of communal surfaces, a daily COVID-19 screener and the UCOP vaccination policy will also be enforced upon staff returning to on-site locations, according to a UCOP press release.

In contrast, campus announced wearing masks indoors will be optional but “strongly recommended” for fully vaccinated individuals starting March 7.

Campus is aiming to keep its protocols in line with current public health guidelines, in keeping with its policies since the beginning of the pandemic, according to campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore.

“Neither the CDC, the California Department of Health Services, nor the City of Berkeley Health Department presently recommend mask mandates in higher education settings,” Gilmore said in an email. “We continue to strive to keep our campus guidelines in alignment with public health guidance.”

John Swartzberg, professor emeritus at the campus School of Public Health, noted UCOP’s mask policy is “reasonable.”

He said that masks will allow individuals to be more protected against the virus and comfortable in their work environment until case numbers “decline appreciably.”

However, Swartzberg noted campus’s optional mask policy may also make individuals feel more comfortable not wearing a mask.

According to Swartzberg, the risk of exposure in the classroom following March 7 will be “very low.” He added that the high population of vaccinated and boosted individuals on campus will make the risk of transmission even lower.

“I think both institutions came at this issue and looked at them a little bit differently, both very reasonably from their perspectives and have a little different policies, but neither one are unreasonable,” Swartzberg said.

Contact Zoe Kessler and Rina Rossi at [email protected].