Cases of COVID-19 and other respiratory diseases are at a recent high, causing Alameda County’s health officials to announce that the county’s transmission level has increased from the CDC’s “low” COVID-19 Community Level to “medium.”
An Alameda County emergency press release Dec. 9 states that homeless shelters, emergency shelters and cooling and heating centers are now required to reinstate “universal masking requirements” for all staff and residents in compliance with California’s face masking guidance as daily reported COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are reportedly rising at a rapid rate.
Similar masking requirements have been installed at Alameda County correctional and detention facilities, as well as in health care settings, as per the press release. COVID-19 and other respiratory illness cases have also risen in part at UC Berkeley, according to Tami Cate, University Health Services, or UHS, spokesperson.
“On campus, we will continue to strongly recommend masking indoors especially while the transmission rate is increasing,” Cate said in an email. “This will help slow transmission and help protect our more vulnerable populations.”
Cate added that UHS will once again be providing antigen tests for those living in residence halls to use upon return from the winter break, encouraging those returning to campus to test before and after they travel back.
However, COVID-19 is not the only respiratory illness to stay wary of this winter season, Cate noted. She added that flu season nationally is more severe than it has ever been as high transmission rates take over California.
“We are getting new chains of triple infections, where three different kinds of pathogens are circulating around,” said Fenyong Liu, campus public health professor and virologist. “One, of course, is the continuing COVID-19 epidemic; we always have the seasonal outbreak of influenza virus and now we also see RSV, respiratory syncytial virus.”
Liu attributed the high rates of the three viruses to the winter season, as the spread of sickness is exacerbated by people staying indoors more often. He noted that this is understandable on campus, as finals season puts people under a lot of stress and little sleep, which can weaken the immune system and ultimately cause susceptibility to infection.
Colder and rainier weather over the last two weeks, as well as numerous in-person examinations in the week to come, all contribute and will continue to contribute to the increasing incidences of these infections, Liu noted.
“Now is the best time to remind people to really take care of themselves,” Liu said.
The Tang Center on campus offers symptomatic and asymptomatic COVID-19 and flu testing, including free PCR take-home tests available in three vending machines across campus, Cate noted. According to Cate, UHS also provides daily drop-in flu shots.
Cate encouraged students to take action and protect themselves by getting a flu shot and being up to date with COVID-19 boosters, including the newer bivalent booster.
“Masking and staying home when sick can prevent spreading illnesses like COVID-19, flu, and other respiratory illnesses to help protect our health care system from strain,” Cate said.