New Cases and Policies with the Return from Winter Break

Calvin Pan '23, Staff Writer

The emergence of the Omicron variant this winter has complicated efforts to combat COVID-19, causing a large increase in cases within the Loomis Chaffee community. In response to the variant, the LC administration, led by COVID-19 Coordinator Mary Liscinsky, has taken extensive measures. Their aim has been to limit transmission while also prioritizing student mental health and preservation of a sense of normalcy on-campus.
The number of COVID-19 cases during the winter break indicated that many community members wouldn’t be able to return to in-person classes on the expected return date.
“Over the Winter break, up through the pre-entry testing on January 3rd, there were about 120 students and community members that tested positive before they came back to campus, 46 from pre-arrival testing at Loomis and 72 over break. We then sent in 786 samples on January 5th [the day of Loomis’ return to school from the Winter Break]… and had 28 positive tests,” said Mrs. Liscinsky.
This high COVID-19 positivity rate would decrease shortly after students returned to campus thanks to testing that had been done previously and adherence to COVID-19 protocols such as required masking indoors. Due to the stopping of campus-wide saliva testing after an increase in test turnaround times, tests following the return from winter break were only performed on a portion of the community.
“[Over the week of 1/16 to 1/22], we tested 70 plus kids, around 10% of the population, who were symptomatic close contacts and those who felt like they were in really close proximity to someone who tested positive… and we ended up getting a positive test about every day or two days,” said Mrs. Liscinsky.
Given the recent decrease in statewide test positivity rates, with Connecticut’s decreasing to 22.4% on January 26th from a high of 29.4% on January 12th, the LC administration believes that the number of positive cases will continue to stay low.
“The evidence that we’re seeing from most places is that [the test positivity rate] is coming down, and we also have a booster clinic coming up, but there’s obviously still measures that we have to take for safety,” said Mrs. Liscinsky.
The current protocols for close contacts are for them to wear a mask whenever possible for 10 days after contact, while remaining in-person. This reflects a change from prior policy that required close contacts to quarantine off campus.
If they are unvaccinated or a very close contact such as a roommate, however, that person must quarantine off-campus for at least five days and test negative on the fifth or sixth day to return on day six.
“We talked to some medical professionals… we talked to peer schools, and we really thought about our population, and we found what I think is a good middle ground: doing seven days not five [like the CDC recommends] of quarantine for individuals that test positive, and for close contacts, not quarantining them unless they’re symptomatic like the CDC recommends,” said Mrs. Liscinsky.
In light of the decrease in positive cases, Loomis has decided to leave the dining hall open to everyone. However, the school chose to keep dormitory common rooms closed.
“I think we had such good arguments from people about the dining room being open, being a place where you see your day student friends and… a place that pulls people together. I think for common rooms part of it… kids can be in the common rooms for longer periods, closer together, so eating in there just seems to be a lot more close contact.” said Mrs. Liscinsky.
In making changes around those spaces and other decisions on COVID-19 policy, the administration has tried to establish a compromise between stopping transmission and student mental health.
“I do think the balancing of student mental health and physical health is so important right now, and you can’t open the news without reading about how students are struggling,” said Mrs. Liscinsky. “So, we have tried to make sure that students have a bit of leeway when prioritizing.”
Some students have concerns, however, about LC’s apparent relaxation of COVID-19 policies.
“The school’s plan is to accept the spread of COVID-19 as an endemic inevitability. This is incredibly problematic for immunocompromised students, who will not be able to quickly recover and may have prolonged future health concerns,” said Ella Xue ’23.
“Additionally, many international students have no way home if they become infected, leaving them with no option but to opt in to the program offered by an agency called SHA to stay in a hotel for seven days at a staggering $4500,” said Ella Xue ’23.
Still, in regards to future changes, the administration plans to ease more policies after consulting the CDC for advice and the LC health center for the number of weekly positive cases.
“We will probably open up soon when the numbers come down and when the CDC says that changes are alright,” said Mrs. Liscinsky.