Two positive COVID-19 cases cancel in-school programming



The positive test result and cancellation of in-person school was relayed to the community late Tuesday night. In-school testing later identified a second positive.

Charles Gorrivan, Editor-in-Chief

A positive COVID-19 test within the community moved a week of in-person programming online late Tuesday night. Swab testing has confirmed two positives, but students will return to campus this Wednesday as planned.

“We didn’t know at that moment how many people have been exposed,” School Nurse Katie Cardell said. “We decided it was safer for everyone to be home until we could identify those that were close contacts.”

The school notified 75 students and 15 faculty members who were identified as having been potentially exposed to the virus. Contacted individuals were asked to quarantine for ten days, but Cardell said that the risk of in-school transmission was low. 

“We have a lot of the safety guidelines in place,” she said. “The risk of transmission in school is very, very low, but we do want to be cautious.”

The community was informed of the school’s cancellation after midnight via an emergency alert system and after the positive result came from a third party test. In-school pool testing revealed that another individual in the same group was positive and confirmed the original positive .

Head of School Bo Lauder said that administrators and teachers worked long hours to plan in-person programming and that the cancellation – while a reality of the pandemic – came as a disappointment. 

“Our first reaction was really of sadness,” Lauder said. “A lot of work is going on, trying to get students back into the Upper School, and the [student body] really enlivened the campus and made us feel like we were kind of whole again.”

Going forward there may be changes to tighten contact tracing and improve communications after positive tests are confirmed in the community.  

Cardell said that the loose movement of students between different classes and locations meant that contacts who may have been sitting at the opposite side of the room of a positive individual were asked to quarantine out of excessive precaution.

“I would like to find a way that we can make [contact tracing] a little more accurate, because I feel like people would really like to know the degree of exposure they’ve had,” she said.

Cardell is looking into technology – like the SafeZone tag used to contact trace by the NBA – that could make that work easier. 

“I do think there’s apps and I’m searching for one that, when you’re within six feet of another person, starts monitoring,” she said. “If we get a positive case, maybe we then identify contacts through that technology.”

Cardell’s review of the positive students’ behavior concluded that the positive individuals had engaged in appropriate safety protocol and showed no signs of negligent behavior. She said that positive cases will be inevitable while the pandemic persists – even if students practice responsible hygiene measures. 

“There are high caseloads in the city and it’s an infectious contagious disease, so it’s going to keep happening,” Cardell said. “I think that this shows to everybody that this is a vulnerable system. Everyone just needs to continue to do their part and do the best they can.”

Communicating emergency messages to the community will also be improved, Dean of Student Life Erin Mumford said. Some students missed the alert and Mumford is looking into ways to notify them of abrupt changes.

“I didn’t realize that [students] didn’t get the email,” Mumford said. “I think it was just like a blip between midnight and pushing out this information to the emergency list. We didn’t realize that the kids wouldn’t get it.”

Elliot Herzog ’23 went to school on Wednesday morning before his family could relay the message.

“I showed up and realized that no one else was there.” Herzog said. “I’m not talking to my parents all that often in the morning, so just sending it just to my parents isn’t super useful. I would appreciate it if it was sent to the students.” 

The school will begin sending weekly summaries to community members that share the number of positive pools, tests, and confirmed cases. Lauder said he hopes that increased information will make data more transparent.

He added that the administration was striving to increase in-person programing and to mitigate the risks of the pandemic, but that striking a balance was difficult. 

“We’ve got a good team. But it’s exhausting trying to run the school with the unpredictable nature of the atmosphere that we’re living in,” he said. “There is a real tension between really wanting to do our jobs, but also wanting to stay healthy. I think that will be with us until the vaccine has shown to be really effective for a long period of time.”

Teachers have begun to receive the vaccine, and as cases in the city go down, Cardell said she is hopeful the risk of infection will too. 

“Even though this week was disappointing, I just want to look forward with positivity,” she said. “It’s going to continue to get better. I’m hopeful that maybe we hit our peak hours and that it’s going to slide right down from here.”