‘Even prisoners get to exercise!’ UC Berkeley bans solo outdoor exercise for dorm-bound students

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Students at the University of California, Berkeley are banned from outdoor exercising as the campus extends its lockdown due to a reported spike in Covid-19 cases. Initially set to finish on Monday, it no longer has an end date.

University media revealed on Monday that students living on the Berkeley campus can no longer leave their dorms to exercise, explaining that the baffling new regulation is an expansion of a so-called “self-sequester mandate” imposed last month after an uptick in Covid-19 cases on campus.

Obesity is probably the best-known comorbidity for Covid-19 complications, and even the harsh quarantine regulations imposed on UC Berkeley’s dorm residents previously left room for socially distanced physical activity. 

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The university did not explain why solo outdoor exercise had been added to the already lengthy list of non-permitted behaviors when it announced the extension of the “self-sequester” period. However, the campus claimed in a memo seen by the university paper to be working with the city “to determine whether outdoor exercise may be permitted.” 

While the strict new regulations were initially meant to terminate on Monday, they have been extended through at least February 15th, due to an apparent surge in cases – though the campus Covid-19 dashboard appears to show that numbers have fallen sharply in recent days. In addition to exercise, UC Berkeley students are forbidden from leaving their rooms for any reason other than getting food, seeking medical care, obtaining a Covid-19 test, or if there is an emergency. 

It’s not immediately clear why students would choose to reside on campus at all, given that classes are being held remotely for the winter semester and campus-dwellers are forbidden to socialize. A complex badge system interlaced with extensive testing controls who can and cannot enter campus dining halls, and gathering indoors with anyone other than one’s housemates is expressly forbidden as of late last month. 

The first stage of the crackdown was provoked by 147 confirmed Covid-19 cases logged by University Health Services in the last week of January. 

Earlier this month, even leaving dorms to obtain food elsewhere was disallowed, with students notified that they would be permitted only to pick up food from “a kiosk located outside their residence hall,” according to an email from Cal Housing cited in the university paper. Lunch and dinner are available during a three- and four-hour window, respectively.

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It’s not clear what students are supposed to do if they get hungry after hours, as on-campus cafes will be closed through the end of the “self-sequester” period. Students are “strongly advised” against leaving not only their building, but their floor, and UC police will be patrolling, presumably to ensure they don’t try to escape.

A message from Student Affairs last week warned that the campus police presence would be stepped up in response to “reports of students eating in courtyards and otherwise congregating.

Noncompliance with campus directives” could lead to being banned from campus housing or even suspended from the university, another email warned, encouraging students to rat out their rule-violating peers to resident assistants. 

Non-students were aghast at the conditions college students were being subjected to, with some noting that prisons at least permit exercise – and don’t charge inmates for the privilege of being locked up. 

Even some who favored coronavirus lockdowns in general were appalled at the way UC Berkeley was going about it, noting that shutting down health-promoting outdoor spaces was almost guaranteed to reduce compliance.

The University of California system hopes to return to in-person classes in the fall, UC President Michael Drake said last month in a statement. Students living off-campus or in apartments are not subjected to the self-sequester rule.

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