Berkeley Unified must mask up again with rising COVID cases

Berkeley Unified School District will require students and staff to wear a mask again starting Monday morning. 

Dr. John Swartzberg, a professor emeritus at UC Berkeley School of Public Health, said a variant of omicron is the main reason COVID cases have continued to rise. 

He says the variant is more contagious and they’re still trying to understand why it’s surging in the Bay Area.   

"Lots of kids are getting infected and lots of teachers are getting infected," he said. 

After consulting with public health officials, Berkeley Unified School District will implement a mask policy for the last two weeks of the school year. 

Anyone on a district campus will have to wear a mask. 

"If teachers can’t come in and teach, the classes obviously can’t meet. If the kids are sick, they’re going to be missing school. So we need to be doing everything we can right now to keep the schools open and safe," Swartzberg said. 

Berkeley Unified’s superintendent says because of an increase in teacher absences and a shortage of substitutes, district administrators have gone back to working in classrooms as teachers. 

The district has only been able to fill about 50% of its teacher absences with substitute teachers. 

"I think having mask on in class is a small price to pay to really, not give us a 100% reassurance that there won’t be infections, but mitigate the infections very significantly," Swartzberg said.  

So far this month, Berkeley public schools report 276 confirmed COVID-19 cases including its adult school campus and district facilities. 

The school district also plans to go back to conducting Zoom meetings and move indoor events to outdoors whenever possible. 

"We’ve got to be able to pivot very quickly when we’re challenged with something new," Swartzberg said.  

Berkeley Unified says it’ll also begin contact notifications, giving a report of the number of cases at the student’s school for the week. 

Late last week, schools in Piedmont also implemented a mask mandate.