UC Berkeley updated its mask policy to require that masks be worn by those who have not received a flu vaccination.
This decision was made in light of the upcoming flu season. Current policy states that masks are “strongly recommended” but not required indoors or outdoors regardless of vaccination status. With this decision, that will no longer be the case for those who are unvaccinated against the flu.
Flu season, according to University Health Services, or UHS, spokesperson Tami Cate, is defined as being the period between October and the end of April. Cate noted that it is still strongly recommended that masks are worn indoors; at the Tang Center, the wearing of masks is still required.
Students, faculty and staff that do not receive a flu shot by Dec. 1 must wear a mask at any campus location through the end of flu season, despite the possibility of COVID-19 restrictions being “loosened,” Cate said in an email.
UHS will be offering students flu shots at the Tang Center on a drop-in basis starting in early October and going through December, Cate noted. The vaccinations will be free for students with the Student Health Insurance Plan and $40 for students without.
Students can also request a receipt and file for reimbursement with their health insurance provider. More details will be posted on the UHS website in several weeks.
Lee Riley, professor of infectious diseases at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health, stated he expects the mask policy will decrease the number of flu outbreaks.
“This year, we are seeing an uptick in flu cases so I think we’re going to see a higher number of influenza appearing in the Bay Area,” Riley said. “We anticipate cases and I think the masks will blunt transmission just like it did with COVID-19.”
The best way for the community to protect itself is by using the same precautions taken to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks, Riley added. This includes a combination of receiving vaccines, masking and social distancing.
Riley noted, however, that it is more likely that community members will have received the COVID-19 vaccine rather than the flu vaccine. As such, an increase in outbreaks might be mitigated by an increase in flu vaccination rates.
“The lower the vaccination rate, the more likely the transmission will occur,” Riley said.