Berkeley Unified reinstates mask mandate as district sees spike in COVID cases

BERKELEY, Calif. (KGO) -- With two weeks left to go Berkeley Unified School District is making masks a must as of Monday.

"We've been watching cases rise in our school community and regionally and interestingly we're seeing more clusters," said Trish McDermott, the district's public information officer, noting those clusters prompted the return of the pandemic protocol.

"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," said McDermott.

It's the most clusters the district's seen to date spread throughout elementary, middle, and high schools. Berkeley Unified is home to roughly 9,800 students across 16 schools.

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"We actually are seeing what we believe is transmission in our school," said McDermott. "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."

Third-grade teacher and parent Sumita Soni says she's behind the mask mandate and hoping to finish the year strong.

"I'm really grateful because there are two weeks left in the school year and I love my students dearly and they love each other and I want to spend our last two weeks together," said Soni. "I don't want anyone to miss out on the fun stuff."

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End-of-year milestones are also on the minds of school officials; so too are the 107 reported cases of COVID last week.

"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," said McDermott, adding that the district will also be providing at-home COVID tests to its seniors ahead of graduation ceremonies.

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