Berkeley Unified School District, or BUSD, released new COVID-19 mitigation protocols ahead of the upcoming school year in light of new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC.
While the new CDC guidance takes a more lax approach to post-exposure and positive test result practices, BUSD spokesperson Trish McDermott said CDC guidance does not have an effect on the mitigation policies the school district will employ. McDermott emphasized that BUSD adheres to state-issued guidance and will continue to rely on public health experts for their COVID-19 mitigation strategies.
“The CDC is making these changes because the circumstances of the pandemic have changed,” said campus public health professor emeritus John Swartzberg. “(There are) not high levels of deaths or hospitalization and new medications are readily available. Most people have immunity from past infection or vaccination.”
Swartzberg noted, however, that this new messaging may be confusing for the public with many alleged gray areas in communication. For example, new CDC guidance issued Thursday states that low-risk individuals no longer need to isolate after exposure, only that they should wear a “high-quality” mask in public — the type of mask was not clearly stated.
While BUSD is also not requiring indoor masking, the school district will strongly recommend masking indoors as well as a 10-day isolation period for positive test cases, as opposed to the CDC’s recommended isolation period of five days. McDermott did note, however, that students and staff can end isolation after six days if they test negative and have not had a fever for 24 hours without use of fever-reducing medication.
The district has also partnered with the city of Berkeley and Carbon Health to host multiple vaccination clinics for children ages six months and up to harden their community immunity before the start of the school year later this week.
In light of other public health risks, BUSD Superintendent Enikia Ford Morthel briefly noted in a BUSD community notice that while monkeypox has recently made its way to the Bay Area, students are considered low-risk for contracting the virus. While there is no specific public health guidance for schools, Morthel said in the release that BUSD will consult with public health partners to develop protocols if a positive case is confirmed in a BUSD school.
“While I know we will face challenges, I’m confident that COVID-19 will not be central to our work this year,” Morthel said in the community notice. “We have the tools, skills, and resources to mitigate its impact, strengthened by our high vaccination rates, district-wide participation in testing, and a strong adherence to our protocols to screen for symptoms and stay home when ill.”
Sienna Reinders contributed to this report.