Students and staff will once again be required to wear masks indoors at Berkeley Unified schools beginning Monday in an effort to control the spread of COVID-19 and ensure more people can attend upcoming graduation ceremonies.

Superintendent Brent Stephens announced the new rule in an email to the community Friday morning.

The change comes amid a new surge of COVID-19 cases fueled by contagious omicron subvariants. In recent weeks, more students and staff began testing positive for the virus, and Lisa Hernandez, Berkeley’s health officer, told BUSD officials Wednesday that in-school transmission was “likely” occurring.

In an email Hernandez sent to Stephens on Wednesday, she “strongly” recommended the superintendent reinstate a mask mandate until the end of the school year “to protect students and staff from further exposure and transmission, to ensure the completion of the in person school year and associated ceremonies.”

The latest surge is hitting the Bay Area, including Berkeley, particularly hard. The region has the highest COVID-19 case rates in California. Reported cases in Berkeley are the highest they have been throughout the pandemic, aside from the omicron surge, and Alameda County’s wastewater tests show case rates are likely even higher.

Stephens’ announcement comes one week after Hernandez and 11 other Bay Area health officials advised residents to wear masks indoors again, though she stopped short of requiring them.

In BUSD, more than 250 students tested positive for COVID-19 in May, according to the district’s case dashboard. About 200 students tested positive in April and 52 in March.

More teachers and administrators have been absent since the surge began, according to Stephens. The district has been able to fill only half of these absences due to a substitute teacher shortage, and as a result, staff are working overtime to cover for absent colleagues.

Ally Markovich, who covers the school beat for Berkeleyside, is a former high school English teacher. Her work has appeared in The Oaklandside, The New York Times, Huffington Post and Washington Post,...

19 replies on “BUSD will reinstate indoor mask mandate Monday amid new surge”

  1. The data from BUSD seems to show the exact opposite of what you claim.
    The case rates went up soon after students stopped wearing masks.

    The BUSD mask mandate was lifted in mid March of 2022.

    For March the district reported 40 cases.
    For April it was 205
    For May it is already 262.

    What data are you referring to?

  2. Sorry, I should have been more specific. Case rates didn’t increase within the schools and there continues to be no evidence of school-based spread. Case rates among BUSD students were lower than the case rates in Alameda County, and current BUSD case rates are only half of the peak school case rate was in January during compulsory masking.

  3. Here is a crazy thought. Stop asymptomatic testing like the rest of the state districts and most of the country. Wild I know but it would help our “ surge” numbers.

  4. So put my 2nd graders surgical mask back on him? Ok. Thank goodness most of his classmate are already wearing cloth mask and the over sized KN95s.
    Keep kids and staff safe Berkeley

  5. The mask mandate was lifted in mid-March, and then cases significantly increased in April and May. What are you talking about??

  6. 125,000 people have died from covid in the US between February and April 42% of deaths have been in fully vaccinated and elderly infected with more contagious strains created by the ability of the virus to mutate in the non vaccinated population ,The bay area and Berkeley in particular suffers the acute insult of having historically the largest numbers of non measals vaccinated school children in California: Fact: the measals vaccine prevented 23.3 million deaths globally between 2000 and 2018 ,more mandates or not must be determined by virologists, epidemiologists and
    infectious disease exsperts not our own whims and fancies based on ” bubba misas”
    (grandmother’s tales).

  7. Why? We have data from when the previous BUSD mask mandate was lifted showing that case rates didn’t go up when students stopped wearing masks. Is there any real world evidence from our community suggesting that rates will go down if we do this?

  8. You’re serious? Most districts let anybody who can fog a mirror be in charge of a classroom of kids?

  9. Yes, let’s have a bunch of randos walk in off the street to sub. That sounds like a fantastic solution.

  10. CDC estimated Flu deaths October-May: 4200-13000
    Covid-19 over same period: 350000-500000

    According to your dashboard we have the same case rate as we had around Christmas, and also the same hospitalization rate. It seems to me that it stands to reason, given those initial conditions, to expect a spike in hospitalizations in the next 3-4 weeks, just like we saw in January.

  11. one of the reasons there is a sub shortage here is because BUSD, unlike most districts, I believe, requires subs to be credentialed. This seriously limits the number of people who could step in to help.

  12. Hopefully they will provide KN-95 or N-95 masks because the data shows cloth and paper masks do almost nothing to stop the spread.

  13. We’re going to have surges for the foreseeable future. High-quality indoor masking prevents infection, spread and mutation, just as vax and boosting prevents serious illness. When the surges abate, we can relax the indoor masking. When they spike, we bring ’em back for a month. Not complicated.

  14. I think your claim that covid is less dangerous than flu is wrong.

    The cumulative death chart for covid in the USA shows 175,000 deaths so far this year, rising fro 825k to one million.

    A bad year for the flu is 50,000 deaths. So it seems that covid is more dangerous than the flu.

    or read it here:

    COVID has killed more Americans in 2022 than the flu has in 3 years, CDC data shows

  15. Covid’s time on this planet will be longer than yours. Unless rise is putting stress on hospitals or there’s a true spike in deaths, we don’t need more mandates.

  16. I agree- get vaxxed, get boosted, wear a mask and get on with life. I don’t know what to do about the enertainment and restaurant industries, which see a significant drop in patrons when COVID cases surge and folks don’t want to be in closed crowded public spaces.

  17. Covid is basically a cold at this point. It’s MUCH less dangerous than the common flu. Imagine if we shut our society down every time a cold or flu virus went around. This is not sustainable.

    Here’s a link to the Alameda County Covid-19 Dashboard.

    Take a look. There are almost no hospitalizations. 76 in the entire county of 1.6 million people, that’s .000048%. A large percentage of these patients are surely people who came in with other complaints and subsequently tested positive upon admission.
    We need to realize that this virus is now endemic, and will come around every year just as the cold and the flu do. Are we really going to exclude asymptomatic people from participating in society forever?

    I’m not saying Covid isn’t real. I’m not an anti-masker, or an anti-vaxxer. I’m just saying that it’s insane to shut our society down for a virus that is less dangerous than the flu.

    We are supposedly a smart city. We need to put science before fear.

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