Berkeley universities

Student forced to withdraw after alleged mishandling of COVID-19 protocol

A campus student alleged that the campus’ COVID-19 isolation policies in campus residence halls gave them no choice but to opt out for the fall semester.

The student, who remained anonymous for his own privacy, said his roommate contracted COVID-19 in late August. Having long-term respiratory problems, the student feared that contracting COVID-19 would put him at increased risk of developing serious illness.

“I assumed the school was going to follow the same protocols they followed last semester which was to be isolated at Foothill,” the student said. “I was completely unaware that the university had stopped taking COVID seriously until my roommate called me and was like, ‘Hey, they’re actually not offering me any accommodations and they’re telling me to stay in my bedroom.’ ”

The student said he requested that the campus relocate them to a different room from their COVID-positive roommate, hoping their breathing difficulties would make them eligible for relocation.

However, they alleged that campus University Health Services, or UHS, told them they were not eligible.

“They interviewed me and I told them all about my lungs and how weak they felt, but they told me there was nothing they could do for me and that I should stay in the room with my infected roommate and keep going to class,” the student said. “So I was not only going to put myself at risk, but potentially other high-risk students.”

Campus spokesman Adam Ratliff said the campus is not authorized to comment on any particular student’s situation or allegations due to confidentiality laws. However, he said students at high risk for serious illness should contact UHS to request a temporary transfer to a safe location.

Meanwhile, the student moved to a hotel where he spent the next week commuting to school for an hour. The student claims this put them under financial pressure, and they made the “difficult” decision to withdraw from Berkeley.

The student then consulted the campus financial aid office for withdrawal advice.

“(The financial aid office) told me that withdrawing next week instead of today would cost $500 less,” the student said. “I was going to believe (them), but then my advisor told me that if I hadn’t withdrawn on Friday, then it would have gone from 10% to 50% (refund).”

Campus spokespersons have not responded to this specific allegation.

The Berkeley Faculty Association, or BFA, has also raised concerns about current campus COVID-19 policies.

The BFA alleged in a tweet that there were only about 20 isolation beds on campus.

Ratliff confirmed that there are approximately 21 isolation beds located in the village of Albany, adding that most of the isolation unit last year saw only 20 of the approximately 380 beds in use at that time. There are also hotels available for isolation if needed, he added.

Clinical Professor Emeritus of Public Health John Swartzberg said having just 20 isolation beds is “not enough” because isolation beds are lifesaving. Swartzberg added that COVID-19 cases spread easily in dorms like the one the student was staying in.

“Any time you have a collective living situation, it puts everyone at risk,” Swartzberg said. “It would have a greater impact on students who are immunocompromised or who have other underlying conditions that would predispose them to a poor outcome.”

Swartzberg added that although the pandemic is on the wane, the situation can change quickly and the campus must be ready to “pivot” if the pandemic worsens.

Although the campus understands that students are wary of cohabiting with those who have COVID-19, according to Ratliff, more than 97% of all students are up to date on their vaccines. Ratliff said these high vaccination rates, along with the latest milder variants of SARS-CoV-2, mean students are at a much lower risk of developing serious illness than before.

However, the student said he felt the campus was indifferent to his situation.

“There’s so much hate for Berkeley after being moved and neglected by them because they clearly didn’t care about my health or the safety of other high-risk students,” the student said. “I didn’t want to be there anymore. It was a tough decision, but I think it was the right one.

Contact Lance Roberts at [email protected]and follow him on Twitter at @lance_roberts.