Outdoor exercise banned in UC Berkeley COVID-19 lockdown

(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

A surge of COVID-19 cases at the University of California, Berkeley has prompted school officials to extend a lockdown on about 2,000 students living in residence halls and ban them from outdoor exercise as part of strict new measures to curb the spread of infections.

More than 400 people, mostly undergraduate students at the school, have tested positive for the virus since an outbreak started in mid-January, according to the university’s website. A weekly breakdown of the cases shows about 200 of those people have tested positive since the start of February.

All students living in dorm-style residence halls were ordered to "self-sequester" in the lockdown initially put in place from Feb. 1-8. This week, school officials extended the lockdown through at least Feb. 15.

Students are required to stay in their rooms at all times with the exception of seeking medical care, using the bathroom or picking up food from dining kiosks, according to an email sent to students. Students may also leave their rooms for required COVID-19 tests twice weekly.

 (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

"You may NOT leave your room for solo outdoor exercise," said the email, noting it was a change from the previous week’s rules. "We are working with the City of Berkeley to determine whether outdoor exercise may be permitted, and we will provide more information on this in the near future."

The ban on outdoor activities goes beyond the strict guidelines issued by the state. Gov. Gavin Newsom has encouraged outdoor exercise, even during strict lockdown periods.

"We believe that small off-campus gatherings are linked to the outbreak," university spokeswoman Janet Gilmore said in response to an emailed question Thursday seeking elaboration on the exercise ban. "The various terms of the self-sequester period are part of the effort to prevent further spread."

Gilmore said the lockdown applies to about 2,000 students currently living in campus dormitories or residence halls.

Students are only allowed to use assigned bathrooms on their floor and cannot enter a communal bathroom when someone else is there.

To help enforce the lockdown, UC Berkeley has increased the number of staff and security guards in and around residence halls, the email said, warning that students who violate the rules can be kicked out of campus housing or suspended.