I believe that Andover’s success in keeping Covid-19 cases low has been mainly due to luck rather than success of school protocols. The lack of cohesion and consistency between the rules Andover created surrounding Covid-19 could have easily produced a breeding ground for error and infection. Throughout my time traveling between Singapore, Indonesia, and the U.S., I’ve realized that while Andover put well-intentioned guidelines to keep people safe, our administration’s plan was not flawless. Due to a lack of structure and understanding of how protocols affect each other, many rules proved contradictory or simply useless.
Cohort 1’s 14-day quarantine is a prime example of a protocol that was not as strongly enforced as it could have been. I do not object to the quarantine procedure itself: the utilization of a 14-day quarantine is an important buffer that undoubtedly helps prevent outbreaks. A well-enforced quarantine also exists as an extremely effective safety net. However, Andover’s implementation of a 14-day quarantine as a tool to hinder the spread of Covid-19 was ineffective for many reasons. Countries like South Korea, Singapore and Indonesia, which mandate quarantines for anyone entering the country, regardless of citizenship status, provide an example of an effective quarantine. Upon arrival in Singapore, many of my relatives were forced to stay in government allocated rooms for their 14-day quarantine in compliance with national protocol. During this quarantine, in contrast to Andover’s procedures, there was essentially no contact between people outside and quarantine “bubble” until several negative tests were returned or day 14 of isolation was completed. However, on the Andover campus, testing only occurred once per week during the arrival of Cohort 1. More frequent testing should have been in place to balance the heightened danger of transmission during this period, and could have even allowed the initial quarantine to be more relaxed. In addition, the fact that teachers and house counselors were able to go downtown and outside of campus to complete daily activities during the quarantine period created opportunities for Covid-19 transmission to occur, where it could then be spread to students in quarantine. The flexibility in allowing house counselors and faculty members to go outside of campus frequently was a clear liability of Andover’s plan.
Additionally, masks, while undeniably one of the most effective measures to reduce the spread of Covid-19, would have little to no effect at Andover if an outbreak did occur, since not enough caution is taken in shared maskless spaces. Common areas, such as fridges, bathrooms, tents, and other areas where students are able to eat together unmasked, are all used by many students with little caution. If a student contracted Covid-19, showers and most common areas would be completely contaminated. Toilets, which are not sanitized after each use, would also be a hotspot for Covid-19.
The Covid-19 protocols at Andover are also weakened by conflicts between some of the guidelines and practices that are allowed. When trying to come up with plans to reduce as many cases as possible, it is important to see how each rule interacts with the others. At Andover, many of the rules that make sense individually become confusing or useless when considered alongside other rules. Mask rules cannot be enforced in aquatic sports, leaving students in those sports vulnerable. Students cannot be mask-free with those outside of their pod, yet we can remove our masks to eat near people who may not even be in our dorms.
The lack of cohesion and careful thought about how each rule comes together has led to an environment where an outbreak could easily occur. If one unlucky case were to appear in a setting like a dorm, Andover could easily go from being relatively Covid-free to being a battleground. Rules involving inter-pod contact and basic mask policies contradict each other and create an environment where campus residents’ freedom jeopardizes community safety. While guidelines that allow for a completely secure bubble—universal masking at all times, strict quarantine protocols, social distancing enforced to ensure the safety of all community members at Andover—would be the safest procedure, it would also ruin the experience and enjoyment of being on campus. This conflict makes it nearly impossible to create a safe learning environment without taking away the freedoms of a boarding school experience.
It would be negligent not to acknowledge the immense success that Andover has had in controlling the spread and sustaining a semi-regular campus life. Nonetheless, there are many changes that can be made to streamline Andover’s Covid-19 protocols and allow for some freedom for students while still maintaining the community’s safety.
There are a few key ideas that Andover must consider as we move towards Winter Term. First, the administration must ask itself: is Andover willing to forfeit its students’ freedom for the safety of the campus as a whole? Though we have gone through an entire term with minimal numbers of Covid-19 cases, that doesn’t mean that the situation can’t get worse from here. In my opinion, forfeiting campus life and going completely remote is the safest option for both local and international students. This would allow for the least amount of physical contact and put faculty and students at the least possible contraction risk. Second, if Andover does welcome back students in the near future, the administration must re-evaluate how each of their protocols function as a cohesive plan. For example, an improvement to guidelines could include students not being able to have meals outside of their pods if they are not allowed to be mask-free outside of their pods. Until our rules work as a cohesive unit and Andover is clear on its priorities for students the possibility of an outbreak will only continue to increase.