Sather Gate, UC Berkeley
A deserted Sather Gate on the UC Berkeley campus on Sept. 23 (except the squirrel). Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

UC Berkeley is considering prohibiting the broader Berkeley community from walking, running or bicycling through the campus as a way to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

Cal officials have not officially announced a campus closure, but a draft document titled “State-Mandated Temporary Closure of Campus to the General Public” was provided to Berkeleyside. University officials have submitted the document to city of Berkeley officials and “once we have received and considered the city leaders’ input, the proposal will be submitted to the Chancellor for approval and if approved would become campus policy,” according to an email sent by Janet Gilmore, a university spokesperson.

However, some city officials doubt the ban will be enforced and say it is only being implemented to satisfy state officials.

It’s “on paper because they’ve received a directive to do so,” said City Councilmember Rigel Robinson, who represents the area and jogs through campus regularly. He said he had been briefed on the plan. “I’m not stressed about it.”

The plan would close:

  • The interior of buildings;
  • All campus grounds outdoors (including without limitation informal recreational uses of campus grounds for purposes such as, but not limited to, bicycle riding, running or jogging, walking and sunbathing);
  • All campus recreational facilities, indoor and outdoor; and
  • Residence halls.

Independent stores that operate on campus, the campus bookstore, the Amazon pick-up location, museums, the hill campus and University Health Services would not be affected.

Some aspects of the plan, such as closing buildings, have already been implemented while others haven’t. For example, student athletes are allowed to use various facilities but the Rec Center is closed to the general public. UC Berkeley students and faculty can also sign up to use one of the campus’ pools. Most buildings are closed to the public. There are no residence halls in the central campus. However, the campus grounds are currently open to the general public.

Campus ban done in response to state health guidelines

The draft document says that the temporary closure of campus is in response to a rule issued by the state Dept. of Public Health on Aug. 7. That state document recommends to institutions of higher education that they “limit, to the greatest extent permitted by law, external community members from entering the site and using campus resources, as the number of additional people on site and/or intermixing with students, faculty, and staff increases the risk of virus transmission.”

“This is a new policy responding to a State of California mandate to close state campuses to non-affiliates,” the UC Berkeley draft document reads.

A dog walker and parent pushing a stroller lingered on the UC Berkeley campus on Sept. 23, 2020. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

The closure of the campus to the general public would have a large impact on Berkeley residents’ quality of life. UC Berkeley’s central campus is about 178 acres in the eastern part of Berkeley and is heavily used by people not affiliated with the institution. Runners travel through the shady paths that traverse creeks, hills, and the large granite buildings that make up much of the architecture. People regularly walk their dogs through campus. Parents push strollers and take their children to run around. Others cross it to get to different parts of Berkeley.

“It’s a park in the truest sense of the word,” said Robinson. “It’s a beautiful park that is appreciated and enjoyed by surrounding residents.”

Since Berkeley ordered a shelter-in-place order in mid-March and the university suspended in-person classes, the campus has been almost empty. Classes resumed this fall and about 2,000 students are living in university housing, but instruction and work are mostly virtual.

Certain classes of people would be allowed to go on campus, according to the draft policy. They include:

  • Students who are complying with all campus COVID-19 directives;
  • Campus staff who have the approval of their supervisor to be on campus;
  • Campus faculty and instructors who have received formal approval to be on campus;
  • People who have pre-scheduled appointments with a campus office or campus unit;
  • People making deliveries to a campus office or campus unit; and
  • People who have otherwise obtained written permission from a properly authorized campus representative to enter the camp.

Very little enforcement of the ban is outlined

UC’s draft document does not outline a robust enforcement of the proposed ban. UC Berkeley police officers won’t enforce it, nor will they ask people to leave campus, according to the draft document. That responsibility would be given to specially designated employees.

“On campus grounds outside of campus buildings, this temporary policy may only be enforced by campus employees who are specifically authorized and specifically instructed to do so by their supervisor as part of their employment responsibilities,” according to the draft policy.

Gilmore did not specify how many Cal employees would be told to enforce the ban.

In addition, UC Berkeley, a public university, is usually an open campus. “It is not consistent with our Principles of Community to inquire of others why they are on campus,” Gilmore said in her email.

“The intention of this temporary closure policy is not to ‘lock down the campus’ or to roust campus and community members that may find themselves walking through the campus,” according to Gilmore. “We seek to comply with the state mandate.”

Once the policy is approved, UC Berkeley facilities services staff will post signs with the new policy at major entrances of campus, said Gilmore.

Since COVID-19 broke out, there have been 212 people affiliated with UC Berkeley who have gotten the virus. This includes undergraduates, graduate students, faculty and staff. They do not necessarily live in Berkeley, but they are connected to the university. The positivity rate of those who have been tested is 2.35%, higher than 1.65% positivity rate for the city of Berkeley.

During September, 38 Cal undergraduates have tested positive for the virus, according to university statistics. Six faculty, staff or “other” have also tested positive.

Health officials have consistently said that it is harder to catch COVID-19 while outdoors. Berkeley’s health mandates require everyone to wear a mask when they are within six feet of a person not in their bubble or household.

“I am still going to go jogging through the campus but we should all be thinking about how we follow health directives and are sheltering-in-place to the greatest extent we can,” said Robinson.

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Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California, published in November...