Lauren Lucy Caddell, '23
As we return to school after break, several questions remain on everyone’s minds. Is there a second/third/fourth pandemic occurring? Are we going to relive March 2020? Will the schools shut down, and, almost as important, should they shut down?
It is a well-known fact that we’re all sick of COVID-19. In fact, when considering the topic of this article, I at first was inclined to stay away from the topic of the virus in order to avoid having to say the word COVID in a sentence. I would be the first to admit that I’m in a constant half-state of denial of the pandemic’s continued existence, even when one million cases have been recorded in the past week in the US alone. Perhaps I’m only being optimistic, but the situation doesn’t seem to be quite so drastic as it was when this whole ordeal began.
There are many factors that contribute to my belief that NCS and STA have no good reason to close school and resume classes online. For one, our current situation is much unlike it was previously. Although we were, of course, concerned for our own safety, it wasn’t ourselves we had to be worried about. Our grandparents and senior citizens, children, and babies were the ones at risk. Among constant reports of deaths and hospitalizations were some number of older and younger people with compromised immune systems, but the majority of those who were truly impacted were either very young or very old. Now many of those who were formerly at risk no longer have as much to worry about thanks to the vaccinations that have swept the nation. The US has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, and with the recent approval of the shot for younger children, even the Lower Schoolers at both schools have been gaining protection.
At the beginning of COVID-19, people theorized the idea of herd immunity, where enough of the population gets the virus that eventually it runs out of people to infect. It sounded like a joke until we started hearing about dozens of people that we knew all getting the virus at once, especially within the past couple weeks at school. It was terrifying at first – how could we contact trace when contacts, it seemed, were everywhere? But then the friend we knew would quarantine after testing positive, feel sick for a couple days, and be back at school in another few days. At some point, although COVID still felt like a threat, I began seeing it as mostly inevitable. Either I get sick or I don’t (and the chances are high that I will), but what can I realistically do about it without becoming a hermit and refusing to see or talk to anyone? If I get it, I’ll feel sick for a couple days and then hopefully get better and go on with my life. It makes no sense to me that school, a major part of our lives, would simply be put on hold for something like this.
Secondly, the symptoms for the new Omicron variant, even for those who catch it having not had the booster shot, are nowhere near as drastic as those of the original strain. Although the variant is much more contagious than prior strains and now accounts for around 73% of all current COVID cases, its symptoms have been described by officials as no worse than those of the common cold. Schools have never closed due to a flu outbreak. We get vaccinated for the flu every fall and we accept that some of us will get it during the winter. It’s unpleasant, but not so terrible that it necessitates a return to Zoom classes. Because even though many students like to say that getting up two minutes before their first class in the morning sounds better than wearing masks for nine hours a day, the switch to virtual would hit us hard mentally and socially. Just like two years ago, we won’t realize how much we have until we lose it.
Lastly, where we are in the school year makes the idea of going virtual even more consequential. The March 2020 shift impacted our school year so much that many of us can no longer really remember much of what we learned or did in that last quarter. Our fear of what was going on in the world, the distraction of being at home all the time, and our restlessness contributed to a common conviction that school was mostly just a side effect of this time, or even that it barely happened at all. While that may have been justified for the time we were living in then, we should no longer have to drop everything simply because there is yet another variant that hasn’t proved itself worse than even the flu. As the Upper School heads into January exam season and the prospect of online exams looms, the decision of whether or not to go virtual becomes even more important. Many of us suffered through online exams last year and we know exactly how this decision would negatively impact our test-taking. Although there is still a chance that we may have to go back to the extreme measures we thought we left behind, it is my belief that such measures would be unnecessary.