Critics of the UC Berkeley decision to bar summer students from SARS-affected countries said Monday that the university did not go far enough this weekend when it partially lifted the ban.
“We are pleased that the university had a willingness to re-evaluate its wholesale ban,” said Diane Chin, executive director of the San Francisco-based Chinese for Affirmative Action. “We still take issue with what amounts to exclusion based on national origin.”
University officials say they hope to lift the ban entirely as the summer progresses, but can only do so if they identify enough special housing to isolate students who show signs of severe acute respiratory syndrome.
“It isn’t as easy as some people have suggested,” said UC Berkeley spokesman Marie Felde.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that any traveler from a SARS-afflicted area who gets a fever or suffers from respiratory problems within 10 days of arrival be isolated until the illness passes.
UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Berdahl announced Saturday that the university would allow an estimated 80 students from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan to attend its Summer Sessions program, which provides a range of university courses for academic credit. An initial group of 30 Asian students will arrive May 27, with the remaining 50 cycling through over the course of the summer.
The university has set aside housing on its Clark Kerr campus, four blocks south of the main campus, for isolation, if needed.
UC Berkeley, the only U.S. university to ban students from SARS-affected areas, is still blocking about 500 students from attending English as a Second Language courses that begin in July at UC Extension.
Civil rights advocates say the policy is contributing to an unwarranted SARS hysteria in the United States.
“I think it is contributing to a disproportionate level of panic,” said Ivy Lee, president of the Sacramento-based Chinese American Political Action Committee.
An April 29 public opinion survey by the Harvard School of Public Health found that the SARS story has impacted American behavior. Seventeen percent of citizens who have traveled outside of the United States in the past year have avoided international air travel recently due to reports about SARS, according to the survey, and 14 percent are avoiding Asian restaurants or stores.
But Robert Blendon, professor of health policy and political analysis with the Harvard School of Public Health, said the survey shows Americans are relatively well informed about the disease’s limited impact on the United States.
Blendon said the UC Berkeley policy, in this environment, has probably had a mild effect on public opinion.
“You hear Berkeley and it heightens their concern,” he said. “People say it’s a smart university and they might know something here. But, at the moment, people know that there aren’t a lot of cases.”
As of Monday, the World Health Organization (WHO) had reported 64 SARS cases in the United States and no deaths. Worldwide, WHO reported 7,447 cases and 168 deaths.
The Alameda County Health Care Services Agency reported four suspected and two probable SARS cases Monday, none of them in Berkeley.
Felde said the university is exploring all the options for special, isolated housing, including off-campus facilities owned by other entities.
Part of the problem with on-campus housing, she said, is that the university must supply not only a room, but also a bathroom, for each person who may be infected with SARS. Many of UC Berkeley’s dormitories, she said, have only one bathroom per floor.
Public health experts have split on the UC Berkeley policy, first announced May 2. Some, including Berkeley’s Director of Public Health Dr. Poki Namkung, have backed the university’s decision. Others, like Diana Bonta, director of the California Department of Health Services, have argued that it goes too far.
University of Michigan professor of epidemiology Arnold S. Monto said the issue is a difficult one for public entities like UC Berkeley which must weigh complicated medical, legal and public relations issues when it comes to making decisions on SARS.
“The risk of an individual coming who is incubating SARS is relatively low,” he said. “On the other side, one case is really going to hurt you.”
A May 6-8 story (“Doyle House Set to Fade Into History”) stated that Patrick Kennedy was formerly the president of the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association. In fact, he is a former member of the board of directors of the organization.