BHS Must Up COVID-19 Precautions Due to Rising Threat of Omicron Variant

Opinion

Students limiting who they’re in contact with, mask recommendations changing, and COVID-19 cases increasing — this feels all too familiar. 

The Omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus has sent the world into a new state of panic, making Bay Area communities reconsider how they have handled in-person education in the era of COVID-19. It may be time for Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) to renovate their outdated system, since it’s probably not equipped to deal with this highly infectious variant. Berkeley High School (BHS) specifically has such a high density of students that the idea of some form of distance learning may have to be taken under consideration.

Berkeley’s families are deeply concerned about the risk of infection that may increase as students return to school after winter break. According to the New York Times, there were around 4,300 active instances of COVID-19 cases in California on December 1, while on January 1, the cases were recorded to be around 32,000. Although the Omicron variant causes milder symptoms than other variants in younger people, this spike in numbers is largely due to the fact that it’s more contagious.

Older mask regulations are being thrown out the window, some scientists are now recommending N95 masks rather than the previous surgical or cloth options, and new evidence potentially suggests that the six feet of distance previously recommended is not enough. These changes show that schools may not be ready to handle the necessary precautions to keep their students and staff safe from Omicron.

Other schools around the country have already decided to change their education protocols. For example, Saint Mary’s College High School has decided that distance learning is the best way to keep students safe. Other Bay Area schools have been considering similar procedures, and it may be time for BHS to do the same. 

Distance learning was difficult for many students because of mental health concerns, motivational struggles, and much more. However, with so many BHS attendees at risk for contracting this variant, it may be a necessary sacrifice. How does the school expect people to benefit from in-person education if they are stuck at home dealing with sickness? BHS must begin to prepare for the possibility of transitioning to online school in a way that will best support its students.

All of this considered, the increase in risk is not the only thing troubling the community. A lack of resources for students who have tested positive for COVID-19 has been an ongoing issue, specifically at BHS. 

Missing weeks of school at a time is difficult as a student under any circumstance, but worrying about countless make-up assignments and tests while enduring this virus is a whole new level of difficulty. What is the school planning on doing for all of these students who are anticipated to be exposed? BHS’s current approach on how COVID-19 safety protocols should be implemented has the potential to be ineffective.

If BUSD wants to protect its community, it has to re-evaluate what a safe education looks like. That means possibly considering a form of alternative learning — either online or outdoor — or changing make-up work requirements for students who missed school due to exposure to COVID-19. Only then will everyone feel like their needs are being met and their safety considered.