Stronger testing and quarantine procedures needed as omicron surges

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The NYC Department of Education’s (DOE) compliance with COVID-19 procedures can be like your daily weather forecasts—inconsistent and unreliable. Since the start of the 2021-2022 academic year, the only required “procedures” in our daily morning routines have been to fill out the NYC DOE health screening, an online questionnaire created by the DOE in response to the blended learning model that went into effect in September 2020, and to wear masks throughout the day. In the wake of the newly discovered Omicron variant, which is more highly contagious than the Delta variant, and the rise of confirmed COVID-19 cases, the DOE should push to further improve the coronavirus procedures already in place such as contact tracing and testing.

As of December 2021, the DOE has minimal requirements for entering a school building. These requirements state that all DOE schools must pass ventilation tests, undergo extensive cleaning, administer regular and random testing to unvaccinated students who have signed a consent form, and mandate any visitor to a DOE building to have received at least one dose of any COVID-19 vaccine approved by the WHO or the CDC. Most importantly, all schools must require everyone in their building to wear a face mask and social distance. 

A cause for concern regarding the DOE’s lackluster policies is that only unvaccinated individuals who test positive for COVID, including close contacts, must quarantine for up to ten days. According to the DOE, “Any staff or students who are fully vaccinated OR students who were recently (within the past three months) diagnosed with COVID-19 and finished isolation in the past 90 days will NOT need to be quarantined as long as they have no COVID-19 symptoms.” Therefore, a close contact who is fully vaccinated is not required to quarantine, provided they didn’t display any symptoms, which could lead to a spread of the virus if they are in fact sick.

Although some may claim that the high vaccination percentage within the THHS community may call for the easing of some safety procedures, it is unsupported as vaccinated people can still contract the virus as proven in the CDC’s analysis of vaccine breakthroughs. With this information on contact tracing, we now know that individuals with COVID-19 could be roaming the halls and remaining in schools because they’re asymptomatic. This approach to contact tracing could potentially lead to harmful outcomes in which a student spreads the virus to more at-risk students, faculty, or family members. 

Although THHS is fully complying with DOE policies, they can work towards providing more opportunities for COVID testing. Despite the fact that unvaccinated individuals are more likely to contract the virus, vaccinated people can still contract and spread it, rendering the current system for COVID-19 testing unreliable, along with many of the other “procedures” THHS and the DOE have implemented. Random testing, regardless of vaccination status, should be conducted in order to maintain a healthy and safe school environment. 

Senior Sonia Hasko recently visited the nurse’s office in search of a way to get a COVID test after discovering some of her peers tested positive for the virus. She said, “I asked the nurse whether COVID tests were being offered in the school. Multiple seniors had tested positive that week, so several [of my] friends and I wanted to get tested at school. However, the nurse told me that she did not conduct COVID tests herself. Testers came to the school, but she was not sure when they would be coming in next and advised me to speak to [Assistant Principal of Guidance] Veronica York.” THHS needs to provide more transparency when it comes to COVID procedures; students and staff should not have to resort to seeking out this information. Assistant Principal of Organization Ellen Fee sent out an email to seniors, on December 8th, stating that testing was being provided to those that had the COVID consent form signed but they had no prior knowledge that testing was even being conducted, weekly and were only made aware after the school day was over. Although seniors received an email, the underclassmen had no email sent to them providing them with the information that COVID testing was being offered to individuals who have a consent form signed. School nurses should also undergo training in order to more adequately handle any concerns that students may have regarding COVID precautions. 

 The DOE should implement more efficient ways to combat COVID-19, such as providing more opportunities for both the vaccinated and unvaccinated to be tested. Even still, there’s a long road ahead towards stopping the spread of the virus.

Photo by Audrey Chou