Berkeley orders students home for winter break, but discourages travel due to COVID

UC-Berkeley sent a memo to students discouraging "non-essential" travel for students over winter break, but is only keeping one dorm open while closing the rest.

A university spokesperson said that accomodations would be made for students who need to stay on campus.

In an email sent to the University of California-Berkeley community,  a copy of which Campus Reform obtained, students were urged to “stay home” and avoid social gatherings, but then described how it would close campus dorms during the winter break.

In the email, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Stephen Sutton, Medical Director Anna Harte and Assistant Vice Chancellor Guy Nicolette all stated that while they recognize students are planning to travel over winter break, “many public health experts are asking everyone to stay home.”

However, UC-Berkeley will close its dorms for winter break to help reduce the use of energy, according to the university’s website. Most students cannot stay in their dorm rooms during winter break and aren’t allowed to come back until January 14. 

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“Due to a rise in statewide COVID-19 cases, a Regional Stay Home Order was announced and will last through Jan. 4th, 2021. It prohibits private gatherings of any size (indoors or out), many types of operations except for critical infrastructure and retail, and requires 100% masking and physical distancing,” the email states.

It continues further to encourage students to stay home while adding that the university saw a spike in COVID-19 cases after Thanksgiving.

“Please be aware that many public health experts are asking everyone to stay home and avoid absolutely all social gatherings with those that they do not presently live with. In fact, our campus has had a recent surge in cases linked to holiday gatherings, with a total number of cases since Thanksgiving equaling all of those seen in October and November combined,” Sutton said.

After discouraging social gatherings, the memo then states that the university will close all dorms, except one.

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The university’s website further explains the dorm closure stating that students aren’t allowed to stay in their dorms during winter break.

“During winter break, most campus residence halls close and residents must leave the buildings.”                                                                                                                                              

Students were required to leave by 10:00 a.m. on December 19 and aren’t allowed back until 9:00 a.m. on January 14. The email explains that students aren’t allowed to stay during the break because they want to reduce the use of energy.

“All residence halls, with the exception of Martinez Commons, will be closed during the Semester Break (12/19/20-1/13/21). All residents must vacate the halls upon commencement of the Semester Break on Saturday, December 19, 2020, by 10 a.m. Residents are not allowed to reside in buildings during semester break due to energy curtailment.”

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“However, residents are allowed to leave their belongings in the halls over the semester break at their own risk. Residents may move back into the halls beginning at 9 a.m. on Thursday, January 14, 2021.”

The university’s website regarding travel emphasizes the risk of contracting COVID-19. 

“Non-essential faculty, staff and student travel is strongly discouraged, as travel increases your chances of contracting or spreading COVID-19, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” it states.

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UC Berkeley Senior Director of Strategic Communications Janet Gilmore told Campus Reform that the school will accommodate students who remain on campus.

“The majority of students living in our residential halls have informed us that they plan to leave for the winter break, consequently all but one of the dorms will be closed. For those students in our residential hall who wish to stay over the winter break, we will accommodate them with campus housing,” Gilmore said. 

“To clarify, with Winter Break approaching, we wanted to encourage students to stay safe and to let students know about the recent stay at home orders. For those traveling, once they are home, public health experts are asking everyone to stay home and avoid absolutely all social gatherings with those that they do not live with.”

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