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Berkeley campus lifts SARS-related enrollment, travel limits

– With the risk of SARS greatly reduced and worldwide travel restrictions eased, the UC Berkeley campus has been able to remove all SARS-related summer travel and enrollment restrictions.

The campus has been monitoring the SARS situation throughout the summer and has been able to increase offers of enrollment for its summer sessions and UC Extension programs as regions came off of the Centers for Disease Control list of travel advisories. Campus policies are based on CDC advisories and alerts.

On June 25, the CDC downgraded its advisory for Taiwan to a travel alert, and then on July 15 removed the alert as well. Taiwan was the last of the SARS-related advisories or alerts. A travel advisory recommends that nonessential travel be deferred, while a travel alert allows for travel but informs travelers of health concerns and provides advice about specific precautions.

The campus's SARS task force continued to work throughout the summer, developing detailed protocols and procedures.

"The risk for the campus has gone down dramatically since we started, " said Tomas Aragon, a member of the task force and director of the UC Berkeley Center for Infectious Disease Preparedness. "What's most important for me is that we have a plan. And, it is a good, really useful plan that we can put to use if we are confronted with any severe infectious respiratory disease."

At a task force meeting Monday, July 14, Chancellor Robert M. Berdahl commended the members for their hard work.

Lessons learned by UC Berkeley on one side of the Pacific and by the Chinese University of Hong Kong on the other will be shared by university representatives and health professors from each campus at a meeting July 21 at Berkeley.

At Berkeley, where university housing for students is almost always at capacity, one major issue confronting public health officials was how the campus would isolate students in rooms with separate bathroom and kitchen facilities should that be needed.

This summer a few rooms at the Clark Kerr Campus were set aside in case they were needed for students with SARS symptoms. There was no need for the rooms to be used for SARS, but when a visiting student developed chicken pox, housing officials used the case to test the rooms and new infectious disease protocols.

Apart from boredom on the student's part, the processes developed by the task force worked well, reported housing officials.

But what to do when there are no rooms available? Housing officials developed a plan to rent self-contained travel trailers, bring them to campus and supply them with food, water, power, telephones and wireless Internet connections.

Although it looks like there will be no immediate need for the temporary housing, this approach could be useful to manage housing needs for outbreaks of other communicable diseases, such as meningitis. So, the campus will go ahead and set up two trailers for a few weeks early this fall to test the option.

Finally, information on the status of the SARS outbreak, the campus's response and reminders of where to go for information will be made available to students and others as they return to Berkeley for the fall semester.