Off-Campus Restrictions Ease, Students Will No Longer Undergo Widespread Covid-19 Testing

Boarding students who are fully vaccinated and received the booster shot more than two weeks ago will be permitted to travel downtown, off-campus, and overnight beginning today at 3:00 p.m., according to emails sent by cluster deans on Thursday night. Earlier this week Head of School Dr. Raynard Kington announced that Covid-19 booster shots will now be required for all Andover community members to receive by February 1, if applicable. In addition, Andover has ended its weekly Covid-19 testing protocol for community members. This decision was in part due to a lower rate of positive Covid-19 testing on campus in recent weeks.

Before winter break, on December 8, the positivity rate on campus was 0.33 percent. According to Medical Director Dr. Amy Patel’s Campus Public Health Update sent on January 19, the campus testing positivity rate from the past 7 days is 1.5 percent, much lower than the Massachusetts positivity rate of 20.4 percent. However, Andover has not tested all students on campus since January 13.

Transitioning from consistent campus Covid-19 testing, Kington emphasized new expert data on Covid-19 as the source for policy change. Now, if students feel ill, they are required to stay in their dorms or homes and contact Rebecca M. Sykes Wellness Center. Remote classes will still be an option for these students.

In an email to the Andover community, Kington wrote, “While we have relied on frequent surveillance testing over the last 16 months, experts now suggest that resources are better spent on testing those who are symptomatic, close contacts (roommates, household contacts, significant others) and those who are medically vulnerable. We will follow this guidance at Andover using a combination of rapid antigen tests and P.C.R. tests.”

These two emails sent to students on the afternoon of January 19 bearing the Covid-19 news were a surprise for some students, like Kaia Heslin ’23. Heslin emphasized that as a day student, they are far more exposed to Covid-19 and pose a risk to campus. She felt as though the administration’s decision on not planning to test the day student population was shocking.

Heslin said, “I was surprised that they weren’t going to test day students twice a week or they weren’t going to test them unless they were feeling sick, because you can still be asymptomatic and spread Covid and bring it to other people on campus, especially because your family comes into contact with more people. I know my brother goes to a different school and my mom works at public school and my dad’s at an office, so they’re around a lot of people all day.”

Alongside Covid-19 testing changes, the new booster shot protocol alters rules for campus departure. Now, only students who have received their booster shot will be permitted to go downtown or travel off campus beginning January 21. Kington shared that additional measures could be also taken for ensuring community health.

“As with everything in this pandemic, if data and science indicate that a different strategy is warranted to ensure community health and safety and in-person learning, we will shift our approach accordingly… We will continue to monitor the status of the pandemic as we consider whether to require a negative test upon returning to campus following the long weekend,” wrote Kington.