Andover students returned to campus from winter break during the recent spread of the XBB.1.5 variant of Covid-19, which according to CNN is considered the most contagious strain of Omicron yet. To return, students were required to get the bivalent Covid-19 booster vaccine, barring religious and medical exemptions, wrote Head of School Dr. Raynard Kington in an email to Andover students and families.
For students who did not previously get the booster, Andover held a clinic at the Rebecca M. Sykes Wellness Center on January 4. According to an email to the campus community from Dr. Amy Patel, Chief Medical Director and Dean of Health and Wellness, 88.3 percent of Andover students have received the bivalent booster as of January 11. No other campus health protocols, including those for masking, were changed in the return to campus, wrote Patel on January 12 in an email to the Andover community.
The current wellness protocol does not require masking except for those within the ten-day period after testing positive for Covid-19, those who have had close contact with someone who tested positive for Covid-19, or those with symptoms of illness. Patel noted that the current masking protocol has been, and should continue to be, sufficient for preventative measures against the spread of Covid-19, alongside the vaccination requirement.
“Our Covid-19 protocols have really been able to encapsulate the risk with any of the variants. At any given time, [the Covid-19] risk level is going to vary due to a number of different factors. At this point, there are specific levers that we could push and pull… I think masking is probably the biggest one. At this point, though, we have found that if individuals follow the masking guidelines set out that there should actually be a significant reduction,” said Patel.
Many local private schools, including Governor’s, Concord Academy, and Phillips Exeter Academy, have adopted similar making and vaccination guidelines to Andover’s. Cecileah Wang ’26, a freshman at Governor’s, noted that the Covid-19 cases on her campus have decreased.
“I think [the Covid-19 protocol] is actually pretty effective because compared to the flu and the cold that’s been going around, there were actually not that many Covid-19 cases,” said Wang.
Patel hopes that the Andover community will move to a phase of managing Covid-19 less stressfully, despite the newly widespread virus. This new phase, she believes, stems from independent action in mitigating the spread of Covid-19.
“Rather than continuing to have universal requirements, we’re really hoping to be able to move into the more endemic phase of this and have people show individual responsibility,” said Patel.
Patrick Pothel, Instructor in French, explained that he feels safe going around and teaching on campus regardless of the spread of the new variant. He attributes the vaccine rollout and the declining number of Covid-19 cases to a safer campus.
“With the numbers declining… it increased my confidence in not getting severely sick. I can’t say that I live my life on a daily basis thinking about the variant and getting sick…. Although I’m aware that it’s still out there, it’s not something that is as prevalent in my mindset as it was in 2020 and 2021 and even part of 2022,” said Pothel.
Similarly, Gracie Aziabor ’26 added that the pandemic has drifted to the back of her mind. Aziabor explained that she hadn’t heard much media coverage on the XBB.1.5 Covid-19 variant in comparison to the other Covid-19 variants in the past.
“I think in the past, the news and media [were] more upfront when there [were] new variants, and I think it was easier to hear about it because more people are talking about it. But interestingly enough, I haven’t heard a lot about this new variant. I didn’t even really know that there was a new one until an email was sent out to the school before coming back from Winter Break,” said Aziabor.
Sebastian Cynn ’24 also noticed the limited attention paid to the XBB.1.5 variant in and outside Andover. He assumes this may be due to how long the Covid-19 pandemic has been prevalent.
“To be honest, I haven’t heard as much about it, and I’m not sure if I’ve cared as much about it, because, at this point, it seems that Covid-19, unfortunately, is something that’s here to stay,” said Cynn.
The three-year mark since the first shutdown for Covid-19 approaches. Marcelle Doheny, Instructor in History and Social Science, noted that although Covid-19 will continue to evolve, protocols have been developed to withstand variants to come.
“I think the variants are changing. [The XBB.1.5 Covid-19 variant] doesn’t seem to me, from what I read, to be riskier than some other variants, and I think that this is going to be something we’re going to have to live with. There’s going to be variant after variant after variant,” said Doheny.