Berkeley school district sees high absenteeism rate amid COVID-19 isolation

The Berkeley Unified School District, or BUSD, saw 62 teachers and 53 classified staff absent from school on Wednesday due to the isolation of COVID-19.

The high number of absences is a trend that started Monday and continues today, according to BUSD spokeswoman Trish McDermott. She added that the school district had also processed 25 positive cases as of noon on Wednesday, a number that had only been seen before in a “busy week.”

BUSD also provided more than 24,000 in-home COVID-19 tests to students and staff ahead of winter break and required them to take one test on December 31 and another on January 2, McDermott added.

Between December 24 and Wednesday morning, 7,485 people downloaded one or more results of their tests. Of those people, there were 225 positive cases, meaning just over 3% of cases referred to BUSD were positive, according to McDermott.

McDermott noted that COVID-19 testing was a “key” risk mitigation strategy that has been successful in preventing more cases from entering BUSD schools.

Other risk mitigation components included requiring people who test positive for COVID-19 to self-isolate at home, McDermott noted. The BUSD passes the information on to public health officials and informs staff and families that they may be in close contact with a positive case.

McDermott said that while the comprehensive COVID-19 contact tracing program is “very effective,” it is strained and has led the BUSD to move some of its staff from the district office to the contact tracing team.

“We were able to keep over 200 cases out of our schools as of Monday morning,” McDermott said. “We strongly support home testing and hope there is a continued opportunity for school districts to receive these tests, especially now during the wave.”

Full-day tests have been available at the Berkeley Adult School since Monday and have been extended to the rest of the week for any BUSD staff or student, according to McDermott.

Of the 125 tests administered on Monday, there was a 22% positive case rate, as 27 positive cases were recorded, according to McDermott. She added that on Tuesday 14.5% of tests administered were positive, as 20 of the 138 tests were positive.

Due to the high number of teacher and staff absences, combined with a limited replacement pool, BUSD teachers also faced cases where they could not find replacement teachers and had to deploy certified staff who work in different departments to give courses. In some cases, the neighborhood even had to regroup classes.

“We are very committed to keeping our schools open,” McDermott said. “We continue to appreciate the community’s support in this process; this includes testing, this includes staying home even with a symptom of COVID, and continued compliance with our masking protocol. All of these things matter and we just need to keep working together to stop the spread. “

Contact Rina Rossi at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @ RinaRossi8.

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