Story last updated September 9th. See the chart above for the latest data.
In the four weeks of Berkeley High School’s (BHS) full return to in-person learning, 13.5 COVID-19 cases have been reported and confirmed. A case is described as 0.5 if the person infected visits two school sites within Berkeley Unified School District.
BUSD as a whole has seen 56 cases, including 10 in middle schools and 27.5 in elementary schools. Berkeley Technology Academy has also experienced one case.
With the rapid increase of these numbers (on August 24th, there were only 2.5 confirmed cases at Berkeley High), the school’s quarantine policies have come under great stress.
In its quarantine policies, which are based on guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and California Department of Public Health (CDPH), Berkeley High School not only seeks to isolate the confirmed individual but also the close contacts of that person.
The CDC defines a close contact as being non-socially distanced from someone for a cumulative total of fifteen minutes over a day, which, according to BHS Principal Juan Raygoza, is simplified to mean anyone in the same class as that person.
However, if someone contracts COVID-19, that does not necessarily mean that each one of their classes will have to quarantine: BUSD guidelines state that all unvaccinated individuals are required to quarantine, but that asymptomatic vaccinated students who have been exposed do not need to. However, the school recommends that they still test themselves for the virus.
Quarantines that do occur — for students who test positive, unvaccinated close contacts, or symptomatic students — last for ten days, or seven days with a negative test after day five.
During the quarantine period, an unvaccinated individual experiencing no COVID-19 symptoms can undergo a modified quarantine, meaning they can continue to attend school in-person, if they test themselves twice a week and do not participate in extracurricular activities.
In terms of dealing with confirmed cases and close contacts, Raygoza said that “the most important thing is isolation.” This means removing confirmed cases from in-person school as quickly as possible.
Raygoza went on to say that the district moves fast to determine the specifics of the case, then works with the district nurse to “identify the infectious period” of the student.
With the limited options available for students to learn virtually this school year, BHS’s quarantine policies are stretched thin between maintaining a healthy environment while not sacrificing students’ learning and social environments.
“[Virtual support] is one of the areas we have to do better in,” said Raygoza. “For students who have to quarantine, we don’t have a full-time virtual option, like we did last year.”
Raygoza also said that the only support given to students regarding quarantine for COVID-19 is the same aid given to students who had to stay home for sickness pre-pandemic. One new addition is administrators and volunteer “task runners” who work to help deliver work to and collect work from students safely.
The amount of schoolwork a student is expected to complete while in quarantine varies from teacher to teacher, according to Raygoza.
“Some teachers will want to give work, but some teachers will want to modify what’s expected, so that the student can complete it when they come back from quarantine,” said Raygoza.
BHS senior Norrie White was recently notified of a COVID-19 exposure. White received an email on August 30th saying she had been exposed. To her frustration, the email had informed her of a confirmed COVID-19 case from the 23rd, and contained no further detailing.
White said she was confused about what the exposure meant for her, and because of a lack of communication from the district and school, “[Students like me] have no idea what precautions we should take.”
Correction: A print version of the chart at the beginning of this article shows one case for the King Child Development Center. The case was intended for Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School and was mistakenly attributed by the District on September 3 and fixed on September 7. The District says King Middle School was notified of the case, and King CDC was not—the error was only on the dashboard.