By Sarah Muir (’24)
January 13, 2022
The new year has hardly felt like a new beginning. Our school’s announcement over vacation of virtual learning, coupled with an anxious pandemic-related news cycle, incited collective, nervous deja vu. Despite the suppression of several waves of infection, the Omicron variant of the coronavirus arrived just in time for the holidays, delivering another blow to the fight against an unrelenting virus. This wave is scientifically not a recurrence of the spring of 2020, when vaccines looked to be years away and the coronavirus was an enigmatic enemy. Today, the virus is well-studied and life-saving vaccines are widely available. However, for many, anxieties can easily overwhelm, particularly in exhaustion over the constant cycling of the pandemic between rise and fall.
Perhaps the best pandemic-related news of the last few weeks in our community is that the Upper School student body is 98% vaccinated for COVID-19. With such high initial uptake, boosters are likely to follow suit. An early Duke study showed that after receiving a third dose, individuals were several dozen times less likely to have a breakthrough case of Omicron-caused COVID-19, or infection after vaccination. There is great reason for optimism. Even so, coronavirus cases in the state as well as the country as a whole are higher than ever. Studies show that Omicron is far more transmissible than previous variants. Current case counts indicate that its degree of infectiousness is unprecedented, a description that the world was tired hearing of a year and a half ago.
And so, the first school days of 2022 happened from home, though a return to school was marked for Wednesday, January 5th. Starting a semester in the online format is a major transition. Having avoided online learning through the first semester, students are relearning remote classes. Claire Hong, a sophomore, mentioned that, “I don’t think that I registered how much I preferred in-person learning until I actually thought about logging into Teams [on Monday].” Remote classes not only remind us of the unpredictability of the world in a pandemic but also of the great fortune we’ve had to avoid unplanned school closures over the last three semesters. With diligent precautions, we have so far avoided lengthy disruptions, even through new iterations of COVID and waves of community transmission. Claire added, “We’ve done well as a community so far, but continuing that good streak is going to be an uphill battle.” The new variant, however, is a reminder that diligence remains vital.
Diligence, though, is no easy task, and tends to make normality feel like a distant past. Kaitlyn Kushner, a senior, felt a loss in security over her final semester. “I was hoping that my friends and I would have a relatively normal second semester, and the shift to online learning certainly made me question how normal these next few months will be.” Edward Rogers, senior and president of the Student Council, discussed his worries for the rest of the school year. “As a member of Student Government, I’m concerned that a lot of exciting initiatives will be shelved– our upcoming art show, for example– due to restrictions. More importantly, though, as a senior, I want to finish my year off with as much normalcy as possible, especially with spring sports and prom.” A wide range of activities outside day-to-day classes such as sports and performances, which are the foundation of student life, will likely have to adapt to new precautions, but student leaders like Edward are “optimistic that we will still be able to carry out our school traditions and events like we have this past semester, of course keeping safety guidelines in mind.”
Even with the uncertain footing of an evolving epidemic, students remain trusting of safety protocols and optimistic for the coming spring. As for whether she has a positive outlook for the semester, Claire says that “it’s a mix, but I do feel hopeful. We’ve already made it through half of the school year.” While Omicron is uncharted territory, the lessons of the last two years promote confidence among students, especially in regards to our community’s resolve and resilience. Kaitlyn said that despite her worries, she feels ready for what the new year brings. “I still find myself having a positive outlook on the rest of the semester. If we as a school could get through the past few years together, I don’t see why we can’t keep on pushing forward together.”