Opening School

We’re writing with an update and a renewed appeal to help us put the immunity in community as school activities resume. Watching the recent surge in delta variant-related COVID-19 cases and seeing our region relegated to fodder for late night talk show monologues, it’s clear that our capacity to bend the wider curve remains finite. But we can work our acre (or seven) to set an instructive example at 2000 Edgehill to keep everyone safe and healthy. Here’s the emerging plan and the rationale:

Vaccination stands as the best measure against contracting any form of the virus. Uptake among faculty, staff, and eligible students last spring proved enormously encouraging. While other school settings, especially large districts, face daunting challenges keeping track of exactly who is protected in that way, our scale makes doing so entirely within reach, and our Health Team will carry that responsibility for those on campus daily, as they do with all inoculation records. Knowing exactly who’s vaccinated and how extensive that protection is at USN will be essential as we determine the best path forward.

Our working plan had been for vaccinated students, staff, visitors, volunteers, and vendors to formally confirm that status, which would then have meant mask wearing in the building is optional for them. This week’s guidance from the CDC for K-12 schools, acknowledging the elevated contagiousness and transmissibility of the predominant COVID-19 strain, has put those plans on pause, and we think it most prudent to start school with the certainty of everyone masked when indoors. We’ll be reviewing all available data and relevant local conditions, week by week.  

The plan had been for K-6 students and a range of other folks with special needs that preclude vaccination to be masked all along, accounting for that half of our enrollment. We think it best to start the year together K-12 and adjust appropriately from there. Beyond that important measure of protection as we wait for vaccine authorization for those younger children and for other numbers to improve, masks will also limit any quarantine we’d need in the event of a positive case, again per updated CDC bulletin. We anticipate very little contact-tracing quarantine as a result.

We plan to continue offering testing as a strategy to decrease spread within the school community and to limit missed days for students with signs of illness. We will continue to promote keeping sick folks home, sending them home when symptoms arise at school, and offer both rapid COVID-19 tests and quick turn-around PCR testing when indicated. 

Our aim is simple — make USN an island of immunity to the fullest extent possible, even as other settings may remain dismissive or overtaxed in the face of the public health challenge we face. What you can do is remember that what each of us does affects all of us. Recalling last summer’s Commitment to Community, keep making choices to mitigate risk — you know well where those risks reside in your household’s instance. 

We’ll continue to monitor events as August 17 approaches and adjust in concert with our Medical Advisory group, still meeting more than a year into this pandemic journey. And yes, the sometimes-meandering CDC guidance can be a source of frustration, but we cannot let our resolve diminish as a result. In so many ways we’ve come miles since last summer, but there’s work yet to do. As always, send any questions our way, and thanks for all you are doing to keep us all working and learning together.

We’ll be in touch once more in the week before classes resume with any final reminders.

Stay well,

Health Team Director

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