A campus student alleged that campus’s COVID-19 isolation policies in the campus residential halls have given them no choice but to withdraw for the fall semester.
The student, who remained anonymous for their own privacy, said their roommate contracted COVID-19 in late August. Having long-term breathing problems, the student was worried that contracting COVID-19 would put them at a greater risk of developing a severe disease.
“I assumed that school was going to follow the same protocols that they followed last semester, which was to be isolated at Foothill,” the student said. “I was completely unaware that the university stopped taking COVID seriously until my roommate called me and she told me ‘Hey, they’re actually not offering me any accommodations and they’re telling me to stay in my room.’ ”
The student said they requested that campus relocate them to a different room away from their COVID-positive roommate, hoping that their respiratory difficulties would make them eligible to be relocated.
However, they alleged that campus University Health Services, or UHS, told them they were not eligible.
“They interviewed me and I let them know everything about my lungs and how they felt weak, but they told me they couldn’t do anything for me and I would have to stay in the room with my infected roommate and continue going to classes,” the student said. “So I was not only going to endanger myself, but potentially other students who are high-risk.”
Campus spokesperson Adam Ratliff said campus is not allowed to comment on a specific student’s situation or allegations due to privacy laws. However, he said students who are at high risk of severe disease should contact UHS to request a temporary transfer to a safe location.
Meanwhile, the student relocated to a hotel where they spent the next week commuting an hour to school. The student claims that this has put them under financial strain, and they made the “tough” decision to withdraw from Berkeley.
The student then consulted campus’s financial aid office for advice on withdrawing.
“(The financial aid office) told me that withdrawing the next week instead of that day would be $500 cheaper,” the student alleged. “I was going to believe (them), but then my counselor told me that if I hadn’t withdrawn on Friday, then it would have gone from 10% to 50% (repayment).”
Campus spokespeople did not respond to this specific allegation.
The Berkeley Faculty Association, or BFA, also raised concerns about campus’s current COVID-19 policies.
The BFA alleged in a tweet that there are only “around 20” isolation beds on campus.
Ratliff confirmed there are approximately 21 isolation beds located in Albany Village, adding that most of last year’s isolation unit only saw 20 of the approximately 380 beds being used at a time. There are also hotels available for isolation if needed, he added.
Clinical professor emeritus of public health John Swartzberg said only having 20 isolation beds is “not enough,” as isolation beds are vital. Swartzberg added that COVID-19 cases are easily spread through dormitories like the one in which the student was housed.
“Whenever you have a congregate living situation, that puts everybody at risk,” Swartzberg said. “This would have a greater impact on students who are immunocompromised or who have other underlying conditions that would predispose them to a bad outcome.”
Swartzberg added that although the pandemic is on the decline, the situation can quickly change and campus should be prepared to “pivot” if the pandemic worsens.
Though campus understands that students are wary about rooming with those who have COVID-19, according to Ratliff, more than 97% of all students are up to date on their vaccines. Ratliff said these high vaccination rates, plus the latest, milder variants of SARS-CoV-2, mean that students are at a far lower risk of developing a serious disease than before.
However, the student said they felt that campus was indifferent to their situation.
“There’s so much hate built up for Berkeley after being displaced and neglected by them because they clearly didn’t care about my health or the safety of other high-risk students,” the student alleged. “I just didn’t want to be there anymore. It was a hard decision, but I feel that it was the right one.”