Where is sssas at with covid?

Morgan Tracy '22, Catherine Onorato '22

Saint Stephen’s and Saint Agnes School has made the turn around to begin 100%, in-person school to start off the new year. Though the return to in-person school was exciting, there are new and updated regulations for COVID. Many regulations were continued from last year, some were brand new, but one thing hadn’t changed at all: requirements for masks indoors. Mrs. Adams states, “I feel like [I’m] the mask police a lot, but it's something we have to do because we know that masks have kept us safe thus far.” There have been lots of frustrations and difficulties all around regarding masks, but there is a level of importance that masks hold, not just in the school community, but everywhere. 


Ms. Adams continues, “Right now, it's a mandate by the governor and the health department of the state. Even when they make [a] change, we'll have to determine what's the best thing for the  safety of our community.” Masks are still a staple in our school community, as the school still needs to follow those formal guidelines. As of right now, the future is still planned to strictly follow and enforce masks since it is still a mandate. 


Despite masks still being enforced indoors, masks are replaced with smiles outside as it is no longer required to wear them outdoors. Dr. Mel Stanton, the Director of Health Services at SSSAS, says, “The virus does not transmit as much outdoors, just because there's more air that dissipates a little bit more… the chances of spread are a lot lower [in comparison to being indoors].” This knowledge helped influence the school’s decision to be maskless outdoors.  Many students and faculty are very happy to be able to go outside and get some fresh air without their masks being on. This has made outdoor classes and eating outside for lunch more popular. It also opens the door for events to be held outside so people can see each other's faces. 


Even though taking off your mask outdoors is refreshing, masks still remain on inside. With the new maskless option outside, it can be easy to forget that masks are required to wear inside. This leads to lots of students and faculty having to continue to remind others to wear your mask correctly when within the school’s walls. French teacher, Madame Van Way, spoke about the frustration she has with people not wearing their masks correctly indoors. “It has been a challenge with the students who continue to not put the mask over their nose. Some [other people] have younger siblings [which you’ve] got to be careful [about].” Many other teachers and administrators have expressed their frustration with having to continue to enforce mask-wearing. Because of the mandate required, it’s important to encourage wearing masks. Many teachers find they remind students throughout the day to wear their masks correctly. 


When asked about whether she feels uncomfortable at school when seeing masks down, Dr. Stanton has said, “I say stuff if I see somebody with a mask that's not properly worn. You know, we have to point that out because of the Delta variant.” 


Mr. Mallet has also shared that, “I feel uncomfortable [when I see masks down inside] because it's a shared responsibility for us. The governor has said that all people in K to 12 schools must wear masks inside.” Especially in regard to keeping friends within the community and loved ones at home safe, Mr. Mallet continued, “I don't know if uncomfortable is the right word, it's sort of a disappointment that people can't contribute to their collective responsibility.” 


Ms. McGuire also included that she feels uncomfortable when seeing masks incorrectly worn or down: “Yes, I really do. I feel like it's what we're supposed to be doing as community members. Such an easy way to participate in community health is having your mask pulled up.”


As of the 2021-2022 school year, the new and current COVID-19 updates around school are as follows: Every healthy student is expected to be in school in person. Students now remain three feet apart, a change and continuation from the end of the last school year. Masks are optional outside, but definitely not inside, however, masks are allowed to be pulled down to eat indoors. Students must be vaccinated to participate in any extracurricular activities. Students and faculty are to sit one seat apart from each other in CPAC. Students also switch out by grade for who can and cannot sit inside the CPAC for gatherings and meetings. Seniors are permanently in their section in CPAC, however, the rest of the student body switches out monthly. Water fountains do not work unless you are specifically using the water bottle fountain. Lastly, getting continuously caught with your mask being incorrectly worn or fully down now counts as an infraction point, which can and will result in detention. 


Another new addition to the new school year is “packed lunches” which are in place of typical cafeteria lunches offered by the school. These are supposed to be tasty, quick, and easy. Mr. Mallet has provided information that the catering company the school uses is called SAGE. This company makes about 300 lunches every day. Some students feel as though they do not fulfill those expectations. In a survey sent to the Upper School, many students reported that if they could change something about their current school lunch, they would. Most reported that they want bigger portions, warmer and or healthier lunches, or that the food is too weird and not normal enough. Some students reported that they find little to no options for vegans or vegetarians. An anonymous student said, “I wish there were better vegetarian options, even if it was just like a veggie sandwich at the salad bar. What I really want is the caprese salad sandwiches at the salad bar. I don't really know why there are 3-4 different meat sandwiches and no options for vegetarians.” A majority of thirty-three out of sixty people reported that they didn’t like the new packed lunches. Additionally, 45% (the majority) of the sixty students reported that they do not believe the school makes enough packed lunches for every person that gets school lunch. Lots of the responses from the survey mentioned that the school lunches are a “hit or miss.” Some days they are tasty, other days they are not. Evidently, lots of students that rely on buying lunch at school are unsatisfied with the condition of the new packaged lunch. Although it might be COVID-safe, it is very possible that this supposedly new and “improved” protocol isn’t up to par with what it should be. 


The Voice sent out a survey to the student body to determine how the student body felt about the school and COVID. We found that within our own Saints community, students have strong opinions on how our school is handling the COVID-19 pandemic. Out of 170 responders, 72.4% think that our school is being responsible with our community protocols. Similarly, 71.2% think that mask mandates are important on school grounds. Inevitably, there were a fair amount of people that reported they dislike the mask mandates and do not believe they are important to have on school grounds. But, newly this year, the mask mandate outdoors has been lifted, which 92.9% of the responders liked. 


There were a fair amount of responses that said they feel uncomfortable without a mask outside, especially if they are in a large group of people. Also, students mentioned that they feel uncomfortable without a mask when they are around unvaccinated people. The rules implemented by the school are followed by the majority of students, but there are usually several masks being worn incorrectly. 


100% of responders say that they are vaccinated. However, only 81.8% of responders think that all students should be vaccinated. Regarding vaccination status at SSSAS, there is a new rule going into place on November 8th, that requires all students 12 or over participating in extracurriculars to be vaccinated. Mr. Mallet, “The reason that decision was made is because of the nature of those activities coming largely indoors. Soccer, field hockey, tennis, football, and cross country are almost exclusively outdoor sports, so now as we move the sports inside like swimming, hockey, basketball, and more indoor theatrical things, I think that it's different. Some would argue there's a different risk when you're doing things inside and outside.” 


When asked if this new vaccination requirement was foreshadowing a vaccine requirement for students to attend school, Ms. McGuire, dean of students said “I can't speak for that. I don't think that at this point this school is going to move in the direction where it's like a full on mandate.” 


Although our school is not at a point to mandate vaccinations for all, Dr. Stanton said “I could see a potential where we are requiring vaccinations for all school activities. I know Mrs. Adams has sent that communication out when we sent out the notification for the extracurricular that this could become a school something in the future where normal school programming would require vaccination.”


Throughout the pandemic, Ms. McGuire, Mr. Mallet, Ms. Adams, Dr. Stanton and (Madam Van Way) all said that they felt comfortable coming into work. This was because of the safe protocols our school followed in order to keep everyone safe. Dr. Stanton said “I felt really good coming in, a little nervous, when first when school started, because especially last year, when we first became all in person, I was like, oh, man, this could go wrong and how do I contact trace? I think that was one of my biggest fears of you know, doing that piece. But safety wise, I felt very comfortable.” Contact tracing is another rule that has loosened this school year. For the 2020-2021 school year, we had to sit in the same spot every day and the teacher had a seating chart so that in the case there was a COVID diagnosis, they could identify any close contacts in the classroom. This year, we do not have specific seating charts for contact tracing because what the CDC now identifies as a “close contact” has changed. 


Overall, the direction that our school is working in seems to be a safe and healthy community for everyone. Down the road, hopefully if the conditions improve and the medical team says it is safe, the protocols will become less strict. Dr. Stanton says “We'll see what happens. We could see what we call an endemic, which is like the end of this pandemic and that's kind of what our hope is. We just got approved for the five through 11 year olds to get vaccinated, now that just has to go through final approval. Our hope is to get them vaccinated in the next few weeks and once we get our youngest vaccinated, hopefully, we start to see those numbers decrease.” Things are looking up in the Saints community and hopefully down the line, restrictions will become less strict and less people will contract COVID-19.