On Friday, Jan. 12, 2024, the Berkeley Unified School District sent a newsletter to families regarding the new COVID-19 response policies. The email discussed the updated protocol, which now allows students to continue attending school after testing positive as long as they are not experiencing symptoms.
On Thursday, Jan. 9, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) issued updated isolation guidance, which states that “recommendations move away from five days of isolation and instead focus on clinical symptoms to determine when to end isolation.” The guidance specified that individuals testing positive for the virus but not experiencing symptoms should continue to mask indoors for 10 days and avoid contact with persons at high risk. The BUSD newsletter notes that students may remove their mask sooner than this if they take two negative tests at least a day apart. Instead of preventing the overall spread of COVID-19, public health officials are now prioritizing the protection of high-risk individuals to minimize social disruption, according to CDPH.
“I think if you come to school with COVID and you feel fine, I think it can still affect someone a lot more,” said Julian Martinez, a Berkeley High School sophomore.
Previous COVID-19 response guidelines were put in place to protect everyone from contracting the virus; however, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 81.4 percent of the total U.S. population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and with the availability of medications such as Paxlovid, as well as other preventative measures, guidelines are more lenient.
Following the update, the BUSD COVID-19 Response Team attended CDPH and Alameda County Public Health Department (ACPHD) meetings in order to develop and implement new COVID-19 response guidance within the BUSD school system.
“As we have done throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the district relies on the expertise of our public health partners at the city, county, and state level,” wrote Trish McDermott, BUSD senior communications officer, in an email interview with the Jacket.
Throughout the pandemic, BUSD schools have sent out exposure notifications to students and staff exposed to the virus, however, according to the email that was sent out to the BUSD community, they will not continue to do this. There is also no requirement to mask after exposure.
“I have students that are hacking up a lung and … they’re coming to school because they don’t want to get behind, but then that means that they’re going to affect other people,” said Samantha Borg, a BHS Spanish teacher.
Enforcing mask-wearing for students not experiencing symptoms may be difficult for teachers, which is worrisome for Borg because her partner and multiple colleagues are immunocompromised. In her classroom, she continues to keep windows open when possible and leaves the air filter on as preventative measures.
Kate Springer-Sullivan, a BHS sophomore, caught COVID-19 right after winter break. Springer-Sullivan believes she contracted the virus from an asymptomatic classmate. According to Springer-Sullivan, the classmate was complying with the mask mandate, although he was later sent home.
“I don’t think it’s like something you can go to school with because it’s still a bad thing,” said Springer-Sullivan. “It’s a real sickness.”