Students and staff at Berkeley Unified School District, or BUSD, will no longer be required to wear masks outdoors after BUSD announced it will end the outdoor mandate effective Feb. 28.
This decision, stated in a BUSD brief from Superintendent Brent Stephens Feb. 17, comes in light of the decreasing positive case rates in BUSD schools and the surrounding communities. Stephens added that the decision was made in collaboration with the school board, public health officials and labor partners.
“The reality is that outdoors has been our safe space for un-masking all year,” said BUSD arts and humanities teacher Amanda Toporek in an email. “I anticipate things won’t change much. Perhaps we’ll see more masks on chins in passing period than usual.”
The brief noted, however, indoor mask mandates for both students and staff are still in effect.
Berkeley Federation of Teachers, or BFT, president Matt Meyer added there was no significant pushback to lifting the outdoor mask mandate at a BFT executive board meeting. He noted that with declining case rates, weekly testing and indoor masking, people have felt comfortable that unmasking outdoors will not increase cases.
According to John Swartzberg, a campus public health professor and infectious disease expert, BUSD’s decision is in line with what most public health experts are recommending. Swartzberg explained in an email that the risk of COVID-19 transmission outdoors is low due to air movement and dilution.
On top of the drop in COVID-19 cases in the community, the need to wear masks has decreased, according to Swartzberg. However, he added in the email that there is still a risk — wearing a mask outdoors is “prudent.”
Errol Sloan, a freshman at Berkeley High School, or BHS, said in an email that lifting the outdoor mask mandate will not impact his experience at school “very much.” At BHS, students did not have to wear masks when eating lunch outside, added Sloan’s mother in an email.
Overall, Sloan said he agrees with the decision but also raised some concerns.
“I think it’s a pretty good decision, though during transition periods there can be a lot of people close together outside,” Sloan said in the email.
A main concern of teachers is the possibility of lost masks after time outside. However, according to Meyer, this will be mitigated by the BUSD’s order of 30,000 masks to supply the schools.
With this in mind, Meyer affirmed that the BFT believes this is ultimately an “appropriate time to lift outside masking.”
“It does mean I can walk around the outside of the campus without having a mask on, which is pretty nice,” Sloan said in the email.