Dear Berkeley Lab colleagues,
The entire U.S. is experiencing rapidly increasing COVID-19 case rates, with the major cities leading the way, and the Bay Area is no exception. As a consequence of both holiday activity and the high transmissibility of the omicron variant, COVID-19 case rates in our local communities have risen with unprecedented speed in the last few weeks. Local hospitalization rates are increasing as well, but more gradually than we’ve seen with previous variants.
We expect the local COVID-19 case rates to continue to increase and remain high at least through January. As case rates continue to go up, we will likely see more serious cases and more hospitalizations in the local community. We can also expect that, consistent with omicron outcomes around the world in communities with higher vaccination rates, many infections in the Bay Area will very likely be associated with little or no symptoms.
Because of these developments, we need to exercise additional caution as we return to Lab sites in the new year. Many have traveled or gathered with others over the holidays, and this occurred in a time of increased case rates across the country. We want to keep the Laboratory as a safe place to work, and we do not want to contribute to the increasing transmission in our community. The health and safety of everyone at Berkeley Lab remains our highest priority.
While we are not planning at this time to reduce the formal onsite staffing limits for areas and divisions, we are asking everyone at the Lab to return to a posture of maximum telework with mission essential onsite staffing only. Before returning to onsite work, please consult with your supervisor to consider whether remote work is an option for you. We will maintain this posture for at least the first two weeks of January, giving us time to assess the impact of people returning from the holidays and of the higher community rates.
For those mission essential personnel who are approved to work on site by their area and division management, we are asking that you carefully observe the health and safety controls we have in place for COVID-19. We know that the same measures that have helped control the transmission of other variants – wearing masks, frequent testing, restrictions on gathering, improved ventilation, contact tracing, and quarantining when necessary – will help prevent the spread of omicron on our sites. In addition, it is critical that you perform weekly and daily symptom self checks before entering Lab sites, and to stay home and isolate when you are experiencing symptoms of any illness, even mild symptoms.
We recognize that COVID-19 tests are not readily available in the community at this time. As part of a new pilot program, beginning Tuesday, Jan. 4, the Lab will provide COVID-19 tests off site (outside the Blackberry Gate in the Horseshoe Parking Lot) for mission essential Lab personnel who plan to work on site and who have recently gathered, traveled, or believe they might have been exposed. To take advantage of this program, pick up a BASIS PCR test at the Horseshoe Lot (just below the Blackberry Gate), self-administer the test (at home or in your car), and drop off your test at the same location prior to your first day of each onsite work week. Your test results should be available the next day.
Before returning to any Lab site, please review the Lab’s COVID vaccination requirements and COVID controls, including the following:
Symptom Check: Required weekly for anyone coming on site. For each day you come on site, you should also perform a symptom self-check.
Testing: As part of the Lab’s COVID Prevention Program, medical surveillance including COVID testing is required weekly for those following Protocol B, and is optional but encouraged for those following Protocol A. Testing supplies are located in the lobby of the B50 auditorium, in the lobby at Potter Street, in B76/Room 220A next to the kitchen, and now outside the Blackberry Gate at the Horseshoe Lot. Never come on site (for any reason, including to obtain a test) if you have symptoms, and do not come to a Lab site only to obtain a test if you are planning to work from home. The Lab testing program is intended to help ensure that those coming to work on site do not have asymptomatic COVID-19.
Report confirmed COVID cases: All cases of COVID, even for employees who are not on site, should be reported to Health Services by calling 510-486-6266. Case information provides data to develop additional guidance.
Travel: Lab employees returning from personal travel and coming to a Lab site are asked to follow the CDC’s travel guidance.
Thanks to your commitment to taking care of our people, our sites have remained exceptionally safe places to work during the pandemic. Over the next few weeks, we will continue to monitor the local COVID-19 case rates and make decisions that ensure our sites continue to be as safe as possible. This is a time for heightened attention to all of the steps we take to reduce the risk from COVID to the Laboratory community. Please review our Health Pledge and our current safety protocols at COVID.lbl.gov, and thank you for your continued dedication to a healthy and safe Berkeley Lab.
Deputy Lab Director for Research
Chief Research Officer
Deputy Lab Director for Operations
Chief Operations Officer