Since the recent and rapid spread of the Omicron variant, schools around the country have been trying to cope with the influx of positive Covid-19 cases. Andover is no exception; due to the pandemic, Andover facilitated a campus return for all boarding students who were capable of traveling to campus, and who had tested negative for Covid-19 before arrival on January 3. This week, Andover went hybrid. Those who tested positive on January 9, as well as boarding students who returned to campus on Sunday but were not positive for Covid-19 while online, remained remote.
Jennifer Elliott ’94, Dean of Students and Residential Life, asserted that the priority for Andover is holding in-person classes. The decision to return was made keeping in mind the campus community’s safety. Elliott explained that part of the decision process stemmed from vaccination rates on campus.
“We’re focused on health and safety and wanting to maximize in-person classes and in-person experiences. So that’s helpful to always have the same goal; and then we keep trying to learn. The numbers are similar from last March, or actually [similar to] different windows of time last year, and the projections [of Covid-19] are really scary. But what’s significantly changed is the vaccination status and our access to boosters,” said Elliott.
According to Elliott, the decision-making process to determine return to school logistics was a shift in perspective. As opposed to keeping track of exact Covid-19 numbers, the faculty paid closer attention to patterns in positive tests, as well as faults in potential Covid-19 prevention.
“Looking for patterns, are we seeing spread, are we seeing evidence that certain spaces are vulnerable? We’re worried about eating, we’re worried about athletics, we’re worried about dorm spaces, we’re worried about where masking isn’t always as good. So we’re trying to really get clear on where those vulnerabilities are and then what can we do to mitigate against them.” said Elliott.
Dr. Amy Patel, Medical Director at Sykes Wellness Center, released new Covid-19 data via email to the Andover community on January 12. 202 students have tested positive for Covid-19 since Andover went on winter break. Of those students, 130 tested positive in off campus testing from December 17 to January 12. The other 72 tested positive between January 3 and January 12 on campus. In the same email, Patel announced that 99.2 percent of the school was fully vaccinated. 51.8 percent of students have received booster shots, while many plan to receive their shots through the school’s future booster clinics.
The school employed a strict testing regimen, with a mix of P.C.R. tests and rapid tests. However, due to a delay between the release of P.C.R. tests and rapid tests, it was difficult to find all students who contracted Covid-19 earlier on. On January 11, some students received updates from Sykes regarding their Covid-19 testing, which determined their quarantine duration.
Sykes wrote in an email to students who tested positive through P.C.R. testing,“We experienced a significant delay in receiving our pooled P.C.R. testing results from this past week. Because of this, we received the results from the tests collected on January 4 and January 6 just today. You are receiving this email because your test from January 6 was positive. This means that your isolation period started at that time and therefore you can return to campus sooner than you were initially told.”
Some students, such as day student Darla Moody ’24, were unsatisfied with Andover’s Covid-19 regulations. Moody commented on the lack of transparency from the school, expressing her disappointment with communication from the administration.
“I respect the school’s intentions, but I think the execution of their response to the new variant is deeply flawed. [But] the bigger issue is that people are calling them out on how it’s flawed and they’re not listening. The communication is not transparent and the logic that they’re using to back their decisions, if it’s there, it’s not being clearly communicated to us,” said Moody.
Joyce Li ’23 is a boarding student who tested positive for Covid-19 on January 9. Li was placed in the Hilton DoubleTree Hotel in Andover to quarantine. According to Li, there are approximately 12 other students in the hotel, all of whom tested positive for Covid-19 but were unable to return home to quarantine.
“I can’t do [my sport]. And I had some club things I [missed]… In terms of learning, it’s been okay. I will say that for some of my more discussion based courses, like history, it’s been kind of hard to participate. I just kind of sit there the whole class and don’t really say anything. In terms of STEM classes, I’ve mostly stayed on track with everything… I think that it may have been a better idea to keep this week, at least, virtual because there are a lot of people who are sick, [and] there are people who have just arrived on campus.” said Li.
Aside from classroom challenges, teachers acknowledge the stress that the Andover community has been experiencing. Rita Obelleiro, Instructor in Art, expressed her sympathy towards both faculty and staff during these challenging times.
“I think that it is a very tricky, very complicated situation. I think the school is doing the best they can. I think the teachers are doing the best they can. We can compare ourselves to other institutions. It is better here than most places, but it still is hard and we’re feeding off the trauma of the past couple of years with this pandemic,” said Obelleiro.