The Berkeley Unified School District brought back indoor mask mandates for students, teachers, and staff on Monday with only two weeks left in the school year due to a rising number of COVID-19 cases in the Bay Area.
At the beginning of the year, masks mandates were still in place at school districts across the state due to the Omicron variant hitting it’s peak and causing the most cases of COVID-19 nationwide since the pandemic began in March 2020. However, following the peak, the number of cases rapidly fell. By the next month, many school districts had begun to end mandates, with Governor Gavin Newsom officially ending the statewide mandate on March 12th. The vast majority of school districts followed by ending their mandates, including Berkeley Unified.
While rates stayed low for the next month, in mid-April the number of cases began creeping up again due to BA class of variants started to affect people. By Mid-May, new cases rose above 9,000 per day, with the Bay Area in particular being affected. With Berkeley school officials worried about the new surge, its schools being area of high transmission and wanting everyone to attend graduation ceremonies, Berkeley Unified announced that masks would be brought back last Friday for the rest of the year. Despite an outcry from parents and some school workers, it was officially a mandate again on Monday.
“We’ve been watching cases rise in our school community and regionally and interestingly we’re seeing more clusters,” said Berkeley Unified School District public information officer Trish McDermott on Monday. “These are cases where at least three or more cases are occurring in the classroom, sometimes as many as five or six which is a little new and different from the surge we saw in January. We actually are seeing what we believe is transmission in our school. And this is what we heard from our local public health officer at the City of Berkeley on Wednesday and she strongly recommended that we reinstated the masking mandate.
“Our goal is to keep everyone healthy and also our goal is to have all of those students attend those graduation ceremonies. They’ve really earned the right to do so. The district will also be providing at-home COVID tests to its seniors ahead of graduation ceremonies.”
Anger, confusion over mask mandate coming back
While applauded by some, the mandate continued to rile parents on Monday.
“There are two … weeks left in the school year,” explained Clint, a parent in Berkeley who wanted his last name not to be used, to the Globe. “What will this do? Nothing. Instead, the students have to go through this indignity of being forced to wear masks despite these COVID rates still not being all that high. You know, some people call this city “Berzerkley”, and although I never cared for the name, I get why when they pull off stunts like this.”
Others were more befuddled, especially with the mandate being so close to the end of the school year.
“Everyone is confused over this,” added “Rhonda,” a parent group leader in Berkeley in an interview with the Globe on Monday. “People who have COVID went up by a little bit and suddenly its back to where we were during the bad days. What, do they want to do a remote graduation now too?”
“They aren’t listening to what the students and parents want. Pretty much everyone is vaccinated here and had boosters anyway. Everyone still carries their CDC card with them. But that doesn’t matter to the BUSD it seems. They just keep pissing us off with things like this.”
“We understand why masks are important. We really do. But they just aren’t needed, not with the end of the year so close and COVID cases still low.”
The new mandate will last until at least the end of this school year in Berkeley, affecting around 9,800 students in 16 schools.