Reexamining COVID-19 safety guidelines after DOE lifts mask mandate

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Benjamin Babayev, Staff Writer

Last year, The Classic reported on the installation of Intellipure air purification units and the creation of a new lunch band as a part of the school’s efforts  to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Early last month, the New York City Department of Education (DOE) lifted the mask mandate for high school students and made wearing them optional. As the end of the school year approaches, The Classic spoke to students about their thoughts on the latest pandemic protocols 

Despite the lift of the mask mandate by the DOE, many students at Townsend Harris have continued to keep on their face coverings. Sophomore Sally Zheng said, “I decided to keep on my mask because I want to ensure my safety and the safety of those around me.” Freshman Denise Chan shared a similar sentiment. She said, “Even though wearing masks at school is now optional, I still wear mine for safety concerns. We are still notified about students testing positive for COVID, and so to keep me and those around me safe, I’ve decided to keep on my mask.” 

When students self-report that they have tested positive for COVID-19, the school is required to distribute at home rapid test kits to students who have been potentially exposed in classrooms. 

Two air purification units  are in each classroom to purify the air from any dangerous particles. Junior Tijon Dembo said he “constantly [sees] that the air filters in our classrooms are not plugged in, sometimes for days at a time.” Senior Lynda Irizarry said that she has noticed unplugged filtration units because “students tend to use the outlets to charge their devices instead.” 

The Classic reached out to Assistant Principal of Organization Ellen Fee to respond to comments about unplugged air purification units in classrooms. She said, “I have been saying to the Student Union to forward me any reports and requests on building issues so that I am able to fill out a custodial report that can be addressed in around twenty-four hours. If you hear something about any issue, say something to me.” 

In response to Lynda’s observation that Intellipure units get unplugged due to students charging their electronic devices, Ms. Fee acknowledged that the lack of outlets is an additional problem that needs to be addressed.  She said, “We also need more outlets to let students charge their devices so I would like to see a more airport situation where we can get outlets on furniture. We ordered chairs in Room 511 that have outlets and I would like to do more of that.” 

Eating lunch continues to be another area where COVID protocols are important. Earlier in the school year, the school reinstated a fourth band lunch option from prior years as well as the option to eat in the school lobby and the auditorium. Students shared their thoughts on current options. 

Junior Angelina McCabe said, “I like being given the option to sit in the lobby to eat lunch as it gives students more options besides the cafeteria since half the seats in there are not available anymore.” Junior Blessing Ogunsola who has fourth band lunch said, “At first, I thought eating lunch during fourth band was a bit too early. Now that we are in April, I have learned to adjust yet I still do not understand why the school does not allow us to sit across from each other at lunch since the mask mandate has been lifted and it allows for more students to be able to fit in the cafeteria.”

On April 5, students got an email from Ms. Fee stating that the outdoor courtyard near the cafeteria is now open again after being closed throughout the winter months due to a external building safety issue that has since been fixed. Students are now able to enjoy their lunches outside with the fresh air, the email said. 

When asked about the current policy of not being allowed to sit across from each other in the cafeteria, Ms. Fee stated that while there are talks of changing that policy soon, the school is still waiting for permission from the DOE. “With the uptake in COVID cases, I think they [DOE] will probably wait until after spring break, but we anticipate that after the spring break this policy will change.”

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