Bubble, Burst

We are facing the largest on-campus Covid-19 outbreak since the start of the pandemic in March, 2020. From just April 6 to April 13 alone, positive cases have reached a stunning 90 and counting. Isolation capacites in Sykes, Borden, and Snyder have been overrun, classes are emptying as test positivity rates spike, and a pall of anxiety has fallen over Andover. The Andover Covid-19 bubble has burst.

Now, many of us are turning to the protocols, events, and changes over these past weeks and asking: why? One culprit in particular appears to crop up most in these conversations. “Reopening” and “new normals” have been anticipated since the early months of the pandemic, with us long grown tired of Covid-19 life with seemingly no end in sight. The pursuit of these, however, have had more sinister effects that we have been eager, in our chase of normalcy, to ignore. And each time we attempt to move forward, these effects emerge to undermine us once again.

In essence, we are caught in an apparently infinite cycle where Andover’s administration loosens restrictions too quickly, cases rise, and we go right back to square one and lose all of our previous progress. The coast can be deceptively clear, and this past week, we have learnt that all too well. Now, students are forced to yet again endure disruptions to their learning, Sykes staff are overworked in infectious conditions, and unprepared parents have their contagious children thrust back upon them, with minimal warning. 

It is clear now that Andover established a plan for reopening and made a trajectory to get from heavy Covid-19 regulations to normalcy. But it feels that any contingency plans made to contain potential fallout were too overconfident, too weak. And now, here we are, dozens of positive tests later, the Sykes staff overworking and the gyms repurposed. All those T lines—some of them false and some of them missed. We could have prevented this. 

And yet, spread is immensely difficult to contain once the virus has broken out, without increased restrictions. While Sykes staff has been working tirelessly to keep us safe, our current safety practices are woefully inadequate. Our rapid tests, notoriously inaccurate compared to the PCR tests we previously used, are likely leaving a slew of cases undetected. Although PCR testing reads as positive for those infected within the last three months, it may still be a worthwhile strategy to pursue to levy a more accurate gauge on campus positivity rates. 

Students and the Andover community at large also need to understand that their Covid-19 practices may not only affect themselves, but the community around them. With our soaring positivity rates, it is imperative that our community does not become complacent. Dismissing Covid-19 as “‘not that bad” harms communities that are likely to be more vulnerable. Day students, for one, have no choice but to attend a highly infectious campus and risk bringing Covid-19 back to their families. Carelessness reflects a lack of empathy towards individuals beyond oneself. 

Ultimately, this was not inevitable. The decision to move from the orange zone to the green zone two weeks ago, off-campus permissions, and loosened testing protocols all contributed to the recent spike. While we must learn from the past, it is now imperative that we focus on the response going forwards. We cannot pretend that, in the midst of this new outbreak, we may still proceed as normal, blind to the risks around us. 

We sought a new normal. We now have 90 cases and counting to show for it. Now, at our wit’s end, we must consider harsher, but most necessary measures. We need clarity on contact tracing, more robust close contact protocols, Covid-19-safe options for students uncomfortable with in-person commitments (such as a Zoom option for classes), and more effective tests. Only then will we gain the ground we so desire. Only then will we avoid the mistakes that led us here in the first place.