UC Berkeley dorm.
UC Berkeley dorms along College Avenue and Durant Avenue. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

When UC Berkeley’s fall semester begins in August, only 3,200 students will be living in dorms and all of them will be in singles in order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

When those students arrive, they will have to take a COVID-19 test within 24 hours. Then they will have to stay “sequestered” in their dorm rooms for 7 to 10 days, only coming outside to pick up a grab and go meal. Then they will take another test.

All students will be asked to pledge to certain behavioral standards, including wearing masks and practicing social distancing.

Those were some of the precautions to prevent the spread of the virus that UC Berkeley administrators discussed in an online panel discussion on Tuesday and in emails to Berkeleyside.

The guidelines, which are still being developed, follow UC Berkeley’s announcement on Tuesday that all fall classes will be taught online, at least for the beginning of the semester. Previously, Cal had planned on a “hybrid” model, with most classes online and some small in-person classes.

“The health and wellbeing of our campus community is the main priority right now in terms of our planning,” said Assistant Vice-Chancellor Dan Mogulof, who moderated the discussion.

Students will have to sign a behavioral pledge

In order to raise awareness of these safety measures, the university is preparing a campus-wide educational campaign as well as a behavioral pledge that all incoming students will be asked to sign.

“While we hope that it is rare, refusing to comply with requirements such as physical distancing and face coverings could result in consequences that could include being excluded from campus altogether,” Adam Ratliff, a university spokesperson, said in an email.

The planning comes amid broader safety concerns about students’ physical presence on campus and in the city during a spike in coronavirus cases in California. A petition circulating online since at least July 16th calls for UC Berkeley to adopt an online-only model of instruction.

“We’ve witnessed this summer a rise of new cases among Berkeley’s student population, together with an alarming increase in the number of coronavirus cases statewide,” the petition reads. “And we know that many of the proposed thousands of students returning in the fall will come from hard-hit Los Angeles and Southern California.”

There have been 117 university-connected individuals who have tested positive for the coronavirus, according to UC Berkeley University Health Services. Not all of them live in Berkeley. At least 67 of those cases happened in the last three weeks after large crowds attended parties at various fraternities. Fraternities, sororities, and other student groups “are being encouraged to hold all activities virtually,” said Ratcliff.

Raymond Barglow, 79, wrote the petition, to express his concern about a spate of people from around the state coming to Berkeley.

“For many of us, the danger is greatly heightened,” said Barglow, who got a Ph.D. from Berkeley in philosophy in 1976. “If we get sick, we may die. And so there was this concern that bringing all of these students back is going to create a more dangerous environment for all of us.”

The university’s recent move to all-online instruction was “a very wise decision,” said Barglow. But it must have been a difficult one because of the economic fallout it entails for businesses and landlords that depend on income from Berkeley’s students, he said. Nonetheless, the health of UC Berkeley affiliates and of Berkeley residents “has to count more than the dollars that the university will lose or that the community will lose.”

When it announced in mid-June that there would be a hybrid teaching model for the fall semester, UC Berkeley anticipated allowing 6,500 students to live in residence halls and apartments, instead of the usual 8,500. But administrators further reduced that number to 3,200 because they determined it was safer for students to live in single rooms rather than in shared housing. Space is still available.

Students will be assigned social bubbles

Students living in residence halls will be put into social “bubbles” of 10-12 people based upon where they live and the Golden Bear orientation group they are placed it, said Glenn DeGuzman, the director of residential life. This will be a group that can mingle more closely together.

“The bubble’s intent is to allow students to socialize and have a smaller family-like experience,” DeGuzman said. “Like any family, like my family, there’s going to be conflicts,” he added, noting that people moving into campus housing would need to “be able to learn to live in community with one another.”

Conversations with resident assistants and faculty in the dorms will often happen online, said DeGuzman

No big ‘move-in’ day for UC Berkeley

There won’t be a traditional “move-in” day, long a staple of a first year’s experience when the streets of Berkeley are filled with families toting suitcases, computers, bedding and other gear to dorm rooms, said Heidi Scribner, the executive director of housing, events and facilities, and residential and student service programs. Move-ins will begin Aug. 20 and will be spread out over a few days, she said. Students will only be allowed to have two people to help them move in.

“We love move-in days,” said Scribner. “We’re just going to do it four or five times.”

The new rules have prompted some students to question whether they want to live in university housing.

“What will I be able to do on campus if I go?” one person posted on a subReddit dedicated to the university. “I’m deciding on whether or not to cancel my housing offer because generally, I’ve heard that we won’t be able to do much,” they added.

Another student posted on the same page that although they were inclined to move out of their family’s house where there is no quiet place to work, they were reluctant to move into campus housing. “From a financial standpoint it is not worth spending money living in what will be a ghost town,” they wrote.

Students have until Sunday to cancel their residence contracts.

If students living on campus come down with COVD-19, they will move to a separate housing complex to isolate, said Scribner. University Health Services will trace their contacts.

“It’s going to be so much different this year than it has ever been in the past,” said Mogulof.