UC Berkeley plans to resume classes in the fall of 2021 that are ‘primarily in-person’

UC Berkeley is planning for a return to in-person education in fall 2021, announcing along with the entire University of California system Monday that it’s nearing a “light at the end of the tunnel” for college campuses during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The announcement comes amid an ongoing surge of cases throughout California from the holiday season and a simultaneous rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine, which was approved in early December. The first people in Berkeley to get the vaccine were frontline healthcare workers at Alta Bates Hospital.

UC Berkeley didn’t describe a specific plan that will allow for students to return to campus in its Monday announcement but said it is continuing to “strongly encourage” prevention measures and offering COVID-19 testing for everyone on its campus. It had plans to offer hybrid education in fall 2020, but these plans never came to fruition as cases fluctuated in the Bay Area.

Some researchers, graduate students and faculty were allowed to return to campus at that time, but the bulk of undergraduate and graduate students have not been on campus since March when the first set of shelter-in-place orders came down throughout the Bay Area and schools and colleges shut down in-person learning.

It’s not clear at this time whether Cal’s plans for fall 2021 will bring the majority of students back to campus, or involve a hybrid plan that accommodates virtual and remote learning options. The university said, however, that next semester in August will be “primarily in-person.”

“We realize this announcement is likely to elicit questions and concerns along with a cautious sense of optimism,” Chancellor Carol Christ and Provost Paul Alivasatos said in a statement. “Our eventual recovery will most assuredly be a ‘new’ normal,”

UC Berkeley Health Services has been running its own COVID-19 testing operation at the Tang Center since the beginning of the pandemic, and is in charge of vaccination for its healthcare workers, according to city planning documents shared with Berkeleyside.

While the university has typically matched or stayed below the city’s case rate, it has recently hit multiple highs for daily cases, according to its online case dashboard. Its overall positive rate is currently 2.41%, whereas Berkeley is at 1.46% positivity.

During a virtual town hall on Jan. 4, Dr. Lisa Hernandez, director of the Berkeley health department, said Cal will be receiving its own allocation of vaccines. She didn’t confirm whether the university has already received the vaccines.

University Health Services, Tang Center at UC Berkeley. Photo: Sarah Belle Lin