Six days after announcing a ban on students from SARS-affected countries attending summer classes at UC Berkeley, university officials announced Saturday that they will ease the ban and open the school to about 80 students from China, Taiwan and Hong Kong.
"We are not able to lift all of the limits," UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Berdahl said in a statement to the media. "But we are able to lift some of them."
University Health Services Director Peter Dietrich said in a telephone interview that about 500 students scheduled to participate in Berkeley's English-as-a-second-language extension classes will still be blocked from the campus this summer.
"We've been working very hard over the last month, particularly this last week, to keep our doors open for students," he said. "From our vantage point, our policy has been flexible as circumstances change."
Dietrich cited the university's decision to remove Singapore from its list of banned countries after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lifted a ban on travel there Tuesday.
Berdahl said two factors have prompted the university's decision to alter its previous restrictions.
First, he said, "what we know about SARS changes almost every day.... Second, we have worked to make significant improvements in our ability to care for Asian students who might become ill after they arrive on the campus."
But he acknowledged there was a concern that by limiting enrollment of students from SARS-affected countries in Asia, the university had in effect been "banning students from studying here, or was not welcoming Asian students at all. Nothing could be further from the truth," Berdahl said.
Working with public health officials, UC Berkeley has identified and prepared housing units that could be used as isolation wards if necessary, Dietrich said.
The university also has established a procedure for where and how students should seek treatment if they develop symptoms of severe acute respiratory syndrome, he said.
UC Berkeley could isolate about 20 students should symptoms develop, Dietrich said. He said school officials believe that number to be sufficient.
"We will contact [students] upon arrival, make sure that they get information" about SARS and its symptoms, Dietrich said. He said campus officials realize that incoming students from China, Taiwan and Hong Kong may already be aware of the symptoms, which include a low-grade temperature and respiratory problems. But in this case, Dietrich added, "A little overkill is OK."
"We do a lot of outreach anyway to new students. We are going the extra mile this time. We want to make sure everybody knows what to do," he said.
Berdahl said individuals must take appropriate "prevention measures to ensure that they do not get sick or make others sick."
The university chose to accept 80 students because that was the number "we already know were committed and enrolled to come here," Dietrich said. Those students had matriculated in the regular programs of the University of California rather than in the university extension program, which oversees the ESL program.
UC Berkeley officials announced last week that the school stood to lose $1.5 million from a comprehensive ban. On Saturday, Berdahl said the university extension program, which oversees ESL classes, could lose "in excess of $1 million."
About 20 to 30 students, most from Hong Kong, will arrive on campus May 27, the day the first of Berkeley's summer sessions begin.
"We can definitely take this 80," Dietrich said. "Depending on the circumstances, we may be able to take more throughout the summer."