On Monday, April 19, three COVID-19 cases from Berkeley High School (BHS) students were reported, seemingly all stemming from a set of basketball practices that occurred the previous week. Two COVID-19 cases were also discovered at two separate Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) elementary schools.
As BHS Principal Juan Raygoza said in his email to students, these cases will “serve as an important reminder that the COVID-19 pandemic is not over.” They should be taken extremely seriously; case protocol dictates that students will be quarantined and the cases will be reported to the appropriate websites. Additionally, anyone who has interacted with COVID-19 positive students should be quarantined as well. However, the administration should not take any drastic or irreversible measures. In response to these cases, it should perhaps require testing for athletes but should not delay or pause the reopening of BHS beginning in Term 8.
To determine how the administration should respond to these positive tests, we need to look clearly at the basketball practices in question and determine what mistakes were made. According to Raygoza, these basketball practices were not socially distanced nor masked, which likely caused the spread of COVID-19. Since the BHS academic reopening is fully masked and distanced, it is fair to say that transmission will be significantly less likely in these scenarios. Plus, sports are more high intensity and require more physical contact than the Term 8 academic plan.
Additionally, non-BHS workouts that involved some BHS basketball players were conducted the previous week without masks. This shouldn’t come as a surprise; it’s impossible to control what people are doing outside of school. Situations of this nature are something the school should account for in all student groups, not just athletics. Especially as the city opens up more, there is a valid fear that students and staff might bring in COVID-19 from non-BHS gatherings. That is partially why BHS will be offering free regular testing for students. In order to stop the spread of COVID-19 between athletes, this free testing could be made a requirement for students in the athletic department. Some may argue that this would be unfair to student athletes, but it may be a necessary precaution, especially if other athletic practices don’t follow the COVID-19 guidelines. The process for testing is simple and not disruptive to students’ learning, according to Raygoza, who said in his email on Tuesday, April 20, “Samples are collected with a simple mouth swab test that takes less than a minute.”
In the moment, these reported cases might seem scary, appearing to some as a sign that reopening is not safe. It might repel students from wanting to come to school in Term 8. Often when such an event occurs, our immediate instinct is to react quickly and take drastic measures. The reality is that such a reaction can sometimes be counterproductive and have the reverse effect. Besides perhaps requiring testing for athletes, taking any drastic and irreversible measures, like canceling or reducing the Term 8 reopening, would be a mistake.