UC Berkeley is warning that its fall reopening plans might be in jeopardy after university officials reported 47 new COVID-19 cases mostly linked to a series of frat parties.
The new cases more than triple UC Berkeley’s running total of coronavirus cases: Before this week, the university had only reported 23 cases since the beginning of the pandemic.
“At the rate we are seeing increases in cases, it’s becoming harder to imagine bringing our campus community back in the way we are envisioning,” UC Berkeley University Health Services Medical Director Anna Harte and Assistant Vice Chancellor Guy Nicolette wrote in a message to the campus community on Wednesday.
Most of the cases “stem from a series of recent parties connected to the CalGreek system,” which included both students in and outside of Greek organizations, according to Harte and Nicolette. Those parties then led to secondary spread among households and in smaller gatherings.
Berkeley Public Health and University Health Services is conducting contact tracing, advising on quarantine requirements and arranging testing for the students who tested positive, according to the message.
In terms of preventing similar gatherings in the future, UC Berkeley is focusing for the moment on “raising awareness in the community that this has occurred,” according to spokesperson Janet Gilmore.
“The university does not have a role in controlling private, off campus social events that are not campus events,” Gilmore said.
Wednesday’s message from university officials encouraged students to avoid large gatherings and parties, maintain social distancing, wear face coverings and monitor their own health for symptoms. The university is also reaching out to the Greek community to offer guidance, and any member of the campus community will be required to complete online training courses on COVID-19 before returning to any campus facility.
Currently, UC Berkeley plans to partially reopen this fall, offering a combination of online lectures and small in-person classes and providing housing to a maximum of 6,500 students. The school will also require students and staff to maintain social distancing and wear masks unless completely alone in their room or office.
Berkeley is also working to develop “social bubble” strategies to allow for small cohorts of 10-12 students living and socializing on campus, as well as testing strategies and environmental controls — including “designating stairwells as up or down only, restricting class sizes and eliminating or changing high touch areas” — for reducing social contact, according to the message.