On August 28, Berkeley High School (BHS) announced to the community that they had gotten a sufficient number of kits to test staff and a small subset of students. Now, new mandatory rules have been placed for student-athletes to get tested twice per week. Additionally, COVID-19 rapid antigen tests are available for the larger student body who sign up.
Jorge Flores, who has been working as a clinic manager at BHS for the past six months, said, “Testing is a vital part of reducing transmission. It is a great way for students and families to know their status and I am a big proponent of what [the Center for Disease Control and Prevention] guideline says, which is that folks who are in areas that are populated or folks who are around unvaccinated people definitely should be aware of testing availability.”
The rapid antigen tests available allow students to have results in 15 to 30 minutes. However, there are some concerns about testing accuracy. BHS has been addressing this by testing students who have a positive result twice in order to double check the testing’s accuracy. According to cochrane.org, the test correctly identified an average of 72 percent of symptomatic COVID-19 cases, but only had a 58 percent accuracy rate for asymptomatic positive cases.
Aleka Vavloukis, a freshman in Universal Ninth Grade (U9) at BHS, said, “I think [BHS staff] are doing all that they can with being back to school.” However, she also believes that school would be safer with a vaccination mandate.
Making vaccinations mandatory has been a conversation much discussed around Berkeley and the whole of the United States. “I believe that mandating vaccines for children to appear in school is a good idea,” said Anthony Fauci, M.D. in an article published on Reuters. Unlike the Los Angeles School District, which made COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory, Berkeley Unified School District has made vaccinations optional. That being said, 99 percent of students ages between 12 and 17 have at least one COVID-19 shot, according to berkeleyschools.net. With so many people vaccinated, schools are becoming safer.
With no vaccination requirement, BHS has implemented strict rules for testing. Maya Merhige, a freshman in U9, already got tested six times at BHS. Due to the fact that she plays for girls water polo, a sport that cannot be played with a mask, she is required to get tested. Merhige thought that it was a good thing that BHS did this and carries the belief that it has prevented COVID-19 cases among athletes.
Flores said, “I want to encourage folks to follow guidelines… in terms of masking up, washing hands, and using hand sanitizer […] and in areas where there are multiple people to practice social distancing.” For many students during school hours, social distancing isn’t possible. Students often crowd the building hallways, stairs, and classrooms, many of which feel small. With such dense places where social distancing isn’t possible, vaccination could prove to be a critical part of reducing the spread of COVID-19.
To apply for testing, students can now go to the BHS website.