Somerset Berkley Faces an Increase in COVID-19 Cases


Image taken from Blue Raider Studios – the SBRHS YouTube Channel

Ryan Rose

Nationwide cases of COVID-19 have been increasing dramatically, especially with the new Omicron variant that rapidly became the most dominant and transmissible variant of the pandemic so far. Somerset Berkley, as a result, has seen unprecedented rates of new cases and close contacts. From the start of the school year to mid-December, 2021, Somerset Berkley saw relatively few new cases of coronavirus infection and even lower amounts of reported close contacts. In fact, prior to December 20th, 2021, the school remained in the single digits of new cases and identified close contacts. This changed on December 20th, 2021 when 11 new cases of COVID-19 were reported and 13 close contacts were identified.

Now, in 2022, there have consistently been high numbers of infection and numbers of close contacts identified that were not seen at any other point of the school year. January 3rd, 2022 had the highest number of new cases in a single day compared to any other day of the school year with a whopping 43 new cases. Since then the school has seen around 10 new cases per day, with the exception of Monday, January 10th which faced a total of 20 new cases. These numbers are alarming. To put this in perspective, from August 2021 when the school year started to January 1st of 2022, the school had a total of 93 new identified cases of COVID-19; from January 3rd to 10th, the first week back in school after the winter break, the school saw a total of exactly 100 new identified cases of COVID-19. That means in the first week of 2022 Somerset Berkley has had more cases of coronavirus than in the whole entirety of the school year up to December break.

This extreme uptick in cases has not gone unnoticed by the students and faculty at Somerset Berkley. The school has seen an increased number in absences and more students were logging onto classes virtually, an option that is only available to those positive for COVID-19 or those who the school nurse identified as close contacts. This rate of absenteeism has been so high that it was determined by administration that midyears for the 2021-2022 school year would be canceled. In an email sent to the whole school on January 10, Dr. Brelsford informed students that, “COVID cases and absenteeism have dramatically increased over this past week… the logistics of facilitating these exams next week, coupled with the makeup processes that would need to occur for staff and students who are absent from school next week, makes this an impossibility.”

One of the biggest critiques heard about the school has been the lack of precaution that takes place in the Student Dining Center. While distancing and masking remains enforced in the rest of the building, the SDC is completely free of any regulation except for QR codes placed on tables used for close contact identification, something most students have not used. During the 2020-2021 school year, students eating in the Student Dining Center were placed six feet apart from each other in addition to the QR codes placed on the evenly spaced desks to identify close contacts. This year, the usual lunchroom tables have returned allowing students to sit shoulder to shoulder without wearing a mask. Most students completely ignore the QR codes sitting on each table, either because they simply don’t care or feel they don’t have to as they are vaccinated and vaccinated students are not identified as close contacts. In turn, many unvaccinated students don’t scan the QR codes as they don’t want to identify themselves as an unvaccinated person.

It is important that in the coming weeks precautions are taken to keep students and staff at Somerset Berkley safe. It was announced on January 10th that Education Commissioner Riley’s mask mandate in schools would remain effective until at least February 28, 2022. It is also still true that 80% of the school’s population will need to be vaccinated before masking up will become optional for those who are vaccinated. According to the Somerset Public Schools website, 74% of 16-19 year olds in Somerset are vaccinated while 55% of 12-15 year-olds from Somerset are vaccinated. In Berkley, 65% of 16-19 year-olds are vaccinated while only 52% of 12-15 year-olds are. For the time being it’s safe to say masks will continue to be a part of our new normal and it is important that each person plays their part in keeping themselves and the people around them safe.