UC Berkeley’s University Health Services, or UHS, released data showing that campus COVID-19 cases have risen, with 18 cases emerging in the previous week.
Data collected in June found that there were only one to three new cases on a weekly basis, according to the campus COVID-19 dashboard. A city of Berkeley press release partly attributes the rise in numbers to the COVID-19 virus’s highly transmissible delta variant.
“The Delta variant is spreading quickly, and everyone should take action to protect themselves and others against this potentially deadly virus,” said Dr. Lisa Hernandez, city health officer, in the press release. “Wearing masks, especially indoors and in crowded outdoor settings, will help us contain this more transmissible variant.”
According to the California Department of Public Health, the delta variant represented 48.8% of new COVID-19 cases in California as of June 21.
Petros Giannikopoulos, laboratory director of the Innovative Genomics Institute’s clinical laboratory, noted that the increase in cases could also be due to the state’s relaxation of mask mandates, along with increased socialization over the summer holidays.
According to Arthur Reingold, campus professor of epidemiology, while there are “breakthrough infections” in vaccinated people, unvaccinated people are mostly the ones experiencing severe symptoms, hospitalization or death.
“The key benefit of vaccination is that it decreases the severity of illness in infected individuals, which has been the case in recent weeks,” Giannikopoulos said in an email. “Vaccination also helps decrease the transmissibility — vaccinated individuals, if infected, tend to shed less virus.”
Giannikopoulos added that he supports vaccinations as the solution to ending the pandemic.
Anna Harte, UHS medical director, noted that herd immunity could be achieved with a vaccine mandate and recommended that people follow campus guidelines.
“We still have too many incompletely vaccinated individuals,” Harte said in an email. “While City of Berkeley and Alameda County jurisdictions are relatively well-vaccinated, we are NOT at herd immunity; in particular, vaccination rates are lagging in younger adults and, of course, young children are still not eligible for vaccine.”
In light of increasing COVID-19 cases, campus guidelines may require students to wear face coverings in indoor spaces, regardless of vaccination status, according to the campus COVID-19 dashboard.
Reingold noted that of the restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, mask-wearing is the “least harmful,” and is a way of avoiding the potential economic or social costs that could come with possible restrictive measures, including business and school closings.
“Frankly, the answer to COVID-19 is pretty simple: you should get vaccinated,” Reingold said. “If you want to further increase your protection, you could wear a mask when you go to Berkeley Bowl or to a rock concert, but there’s no substitute for getting vaccinated.”