With an upcoming four-day weekend, many Andover students will be eligible to travel off-campus. According to a recent email from Assistant Head of School for Residential Life and Dean of Students Jennifer Elliott, Andover students who received their Covid-19 booster over two weeks before departure will be able to leave campus. Students who contracted Covid-19 within 90 days of their departure will be eligible for a waiver of this constraint for another 90 days. According to an email from Campus Medical Director Dr. Amy Patel sent on January 27, 70.34 percent of students have already received their booster shot.
All Andover students that qualify are required to have their booster shot by February 1, according to an email from Head of School Dr. Raynard Kington. Pema Sherpa ’23 expressed her nervousness with this decision, despite her feeling for its importance on campus.
“I think [the booster mandate] is a good requirement and will be necessary at some point in order to make our campus more secure, but at the same time it seems unreasonable that we’re required to get the booster by February 1, as there have only been a couple of clinics available and because it’s such a short notice. I think they should have provided more opportunities for students to get the booster and gave us more time,” said Sherpa.
In addition to the new booster shot protocol, Andover has updated its guidelines to follow the revised Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Covid-19 definitions, according to an email from Kington. Currently, Andover students no longer need to test for Covid-19 unless they are reported as symptomatic. Kington explained that the administration’s reasoning behind stopping campus-wide testing was due to the complicated nature of Covid-19 regulation.
According to the Massachusetts government, the state’s 7-day average of testing positivity is 10.37 percent. According to Phillips Academy Exeter’s website, their average positivity rate in the past three weeks is approximately 1.98 percent. Kington added that Andover’s Covid-19 rates were low in comparison to the rest of the state, and warranted a reevaluation of Covid-19 protocol.
“We’re certainly hoping that this is not the best we’re going to get, but also I’m moving away from thinking about those zones. It’s much more nuanced than that. Omicron is requiring a different sort of response. We have not ruled out the possibility of starting testing again in the future, but if you look at all the institutions, this is the pivot. I think the last positive percentage of the screening was 2 percent or 1.75 percent. When you get that low, you begin to wonder whether or not it’s useful and we weren’t seeing a lot of traction with getting prevention of transmission by contact tracing,” said Kington.
Kington continued, “The other thing that was happening was that the system was becoming overwhelmed with the PCR tests, so we were getting long delays. Everyone was. So it sort of didn’t even matter then, since students had quarantined already. It was clear the system was overwhelmed… and we’ve been following what’s been happening at the college, university level and our peers, [and] this is where the curve is bending. People are beginning to move toward what we suggested and very little institutions were having the rates that we were having, which were so low.”
Cris Ramnath ’23 was discomforted by the new testing protocol. Ramnath felt as though there was a lack of clarity from Andover administration on future Covid-19 procedures. He additionally emphasized a fear of student exposure downtown and off campus.
“To be honest, I don’t think it’s exactly the best decision, especially in terms of testing. I feel like it’s very ambiguous as to why or why not we are not testing students, so to make decisions like going downtown and everything else, I feel like if you’re allowing students to be exposed to places in which we’re not sure have Covid-19 and can get students close to Covid-19. We should test to make sure that we don’t have Covid-19 on campus everywhere,” said Ramnath.
Ashley Park ’24 echoed a similar discomfort to Ramnath. However, Park felt as though the administration detailed the new protocol decisions clearly in their recent emails to the campus community. She agreed with the decisions, though still feels hesitant about off campus travel.
“I could understand the regulations well from the email explaining them. The shifts related to the Covid-19 regulations were definitely big transitions, and some changes felt really sudden to me, which I think affected my sense of stability and mental health. I think most of the regulations are reasonable, although there were a couple that I was skeptical about. For example, I think it’s a bit questionable that some dorms are still not allowing room visitation while students are now allowed to go off campus and walk downtown,” said Park.
Students all experience Andover’s Covid-19 protocol differently, according to Aleena Kibria ’23. She explained that although measures taken on campus make sense, they inequitably affect students with different Covid-19 experiences outside of school. She feels as though better communication could fix some of these issues.
Kibria said, “I think that the protocols themselves make sense for keeping our community safe and they still try to give us as much freedom as possible. I think they take into account pretty well that we’re still in a pandemic. I just think sometimes, especially for international students, it’s a little bit difficult to accept the protocols because there’s so much inconsistency on how they treat international students, especially when going back home or coming back home, or access to vaccinations. I think, generally speaking, all of the protocols make sense. They should just communicate it clearer.”