By Sophia L. ’24
With the school year well on its way and many stage three clinical trials for a possible vaccine underway, it seems fitting to evaluate how the Winsor community has been doing with the new COVID-19 policies at school and whether there is potential for reopening completely.
The Winsor community has been following safety procedures and there have been zero diagnosed cases of COVID -19 at Winsor; however, due to the pandemic circumstance, it is unlikely that Winsor will return to a five-day on-campus schedule this school year. From a student perspective, Jessica W. ’24 reports that she thinks her classmates are trying to remember to follow all the new safety procedures such as washing hands frequently, wearing masks, and social distancing, and are generally doing pretty well with it, but that this is sometimes difficult to remember as they want to go back to the “old normal.” Amelia Z. ’21 says “in terms of keeping masks on inside the building and during classes and also cleaning and wiping down spaces…we’ve done a pretty good job…we could use some more time to get used to the six feet apart aspect of the protocol, especially when eating outside on the turf with friends.”
In an interview with the Director of Health Services at Winsor, Ms. Sneider, she reported that the Winsor community is doing a wonderful job following the new rules and regulations. She stated that there are no diagnosed school-based transmissions to date within the Winsor community. Some family members of students were in close contact with people who tested positive, but they have all tested negative and none of the students have tested positive thus far. She also mentioned that while some other private schools and colleges such as Harvard, Middlesex, and Wellesley, are doing periodic symptom-independent, randomized testing of their students and faculty, Winsor is looking into different testing programs that will produce results quickly and accurately. This system would have to work alongside the school’s hybrid model of students in Lower and Upper School coming to campus only two consecutive days a week.
Regarding Winsor’s policies, if someone at Winsor does test positive for COVID-19 infection, the first step would be to determine whether this person has been at school in the last two days, Ms. Sneider explained. If not, Winsor can conclude that it is highly unlikely that people within the school community had close contact with them. However, in the case that an infected person has been on campus two days prior to feeling sick and then testing positive, Ms. Sneider would verify whether all necessary precautions, such as mask-wearing and social distancing, had been taken while the individual was on campus.
With the help of the Department of Public Health, Winsor could use contact tracing and identify the possible next steps. Close contacts to the individual, meaning that they were within six feet of each other for over 15 minutes two days prior to the onset of symptoms or a positive test, even if tested negative, would be required to remain at home for 14 days. Due to daily attestation through the Magnus app, it would be improbable that somebody who is actively symptomatic would come to school. Ms. Sneider emphasized that such a situation has not yet arisen in the Winsor community. More information about Winsor’s policy and protocol regarding COVID-19 can be found on the Winsor website.
The influence of vaccines on school Covid policies remains uncertain. Ms. Sneider pointed out that school reopening is determined by Ms. Pelmas and the Department of Public Health, and vaccines are certainly not the only factor when considering the possibility of fully reopening. Even if an effective vaccine becomes available, the school must confirm that everybody would agree to take the vaccine. However, before the pandemic has completely resolved, safety precautions would have to stay in place. Additionally, clinical trials to test the efficacy of such a vaccine on youth have only just begun in one of the four vaccines that are in stage three testing for adults. Ms. Sneider stated that she would be happy to have a clinic at school providing a COVID-19 vaccine so that students, faculty, and staff could get vaccinated through school when an approved vaccine is available.
For 2020-2021, the potential to transition from the hybrid schedule to a completely on-campus schedule is low, according to Ms. Sneider. She explained that there are not enough large classrooms for upper and lower school students to be on campus at the same time and still maintain social distancing. However, Ms. Pelmas is continuing to reevaluate the circumstances and will use CDC recommendations to make the most suitable, scientifically-supported decisions for the Winsor community.
Finally, Ms. Sneider urges everyone to keep the Winsor community safe by maintaining a six-feet distance from one another, wearing masks, washing hands frequently and thoroughly, and staying home when not feeling well. If all members of the Winsor community follow these safety guidelines, the risk of transmission remains minimal.