Archer experiences COVID-19 uncertainty, safety protocols updated

Freshmen+Lili+Franks+and+Cezanne+Silverton+work+on+a+debate+case+in+the+library+during+their+first+week+back+from+remote+learning.+Franks+is+wearing+a+KN95+mask+to+take+extra+precaution+against+COVID-19.+Students+have+continued+the+normal+school+schedule+since+the+return+to+campus%3B+however%2C+they+have+to+communicate+with+many+classmates+online+who+have+had+exposure+or+infection+to+COVID-19.

Photo credit: Lucy Williams

Freshmen Lili Franks and Cezanne Silverton work on a debate case in the library during their first week back from remote learning. Franks is wearing a KN95 mask to take extra precaution against COVID-19. Students have continued the normal school schedule since the return to campus; however, they have to communicate with many classmates online who have had exposure or infection to COVID-19.

By Lucy Williams, Senior Reporter

When winter break began, students were anticipating returning to in-person school on Tuesday, Jan. 4. In an email sent by Head of School Elizabeth English, remote learning was scheduled until Thursday, Jan. 6, due to the circumstances of COVID-19 variant Omicron. Archer was initially only going to be remote for two days, but English ended up making the whole first week remote, not opening campus until Monday, Jan. 10. Now campus has reopened, but 14% of students were remote on the first day back due to exposure or infection, delayed testing results or extra precaution.

Omicron was first detected on Nov. 11, 2021, in Botswana. Over a period of short time, it has spread to most states and territories in the world. The Center for Disease Control offers limited information on the COVID-19 strain and is still collecting information about its characteristics and impact as it makes a greater presence in many other countries.

“The Omicron variant likely will spread more easily than the original SARS-CoV-2 virus. CDC expects that anyone with Omicron infection can spread the virus to others, even if they are vaccinated or don’t have symptoms,” the CDC wrote. “Current vaccines are expected to protect against severe illness, hospitalizations and deaths due to infection with the Omicron variant. However, breakthrough infections in people who are fully vaccinated are likely to occur.”

In Los Angeles County, COVID-19 cases are higher than ever. As of Jan. 19, 31,018 new cases were reported, causing the total cases ever reported to rise to 2,343,821, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. 

Archer had experienced 7 COVID-19 cases in the fall semester of 2021. The first one in the Archer community was an afterschool faculty member, and English notified the community on Nov 11 in an email. However, the latest surge has sent citywide and school-wide infections higher, with Archer reporting 21 active COVID-19 cases as of Jan. 10.

Associate Head for Finance and Operations Jane Davis is overseeing Archer’s health and safety initiative. She and other Archer leaders weren’t planning to go remote until virus statistics presented a risk to campus connection.

“When we left for our break, we were not sure how quickly the Omicron variant was coming into the Los Angeles area,” Davis said. “As we began to see the spike in cases over the last three weeks in LA, we decided that we would, out of an abundance of caution, plan for remote Tuesday and Wednesday and to have testing done on Monday. The case numbers were doubling every single day, so we decided, due to the delay in testing results, that we delay until Monday.”

It’s a constant thought in the back of my mind. Am I safe right now? Should I be around this person? I never had to think that before COVID-19.”

— Eden Oje

Davis sent an email to the Archer community on Jan. 7 containing the number of positive test results from the drive-by testing that took place on Jan. 3. Davis reported that 4% of the community tested positive for the virus and were prohibited from returning to campus before the required quarantine period. Another drive-by test took place on Jan. 7; however, results were delayed. Davis wrote on Jan. 9 that school would still reopen for in-person learning despite unknown results.

“Right now, anybody who is is Zooming in remotely is either because they’ve been identified as being a positive COVID-19 case or a close contact, and they’re in their quarantine period,” Davis said.

Archer’s in-person protocols were most recently updated on Jan. 11 in an email. These include the previously required booster vaccination for all eligible students, medical-grade masks and bi-weekly testing. However, quarantine requirements have changed depending on student’s vaccination status.

“The Health and Safety Committee has decided to align Archer’s quarantine and isolation policies with those of the Los Angeles Department of Public Health, which include an option to test out of the remaining five days of quarantine on day five if a negative rapid test is submitted,” Davis wrote. “Please review this detailed information from the State of California regarding the required isolation and quarantine periods. When an individual either tests positive or is identified as a close contact with a confirmed case, detailed instructions will be sent from the Health & Safety Committee on what actions are necessary.

Test results have been delayed for the past two weeks due to an overflow of administered tests in company labs. Ongoing surveillance testing is happening biweekly, with the most recent positivity rate being 2.45% as of Jan 19. Jane Davis said that Archer’s results are coming in more quickly than many other schools, but the testing company’s current policy guarantees only 90% of the results within 72 hours. Dean of Student Life, Equity and Inclusion Samantha Hazell-O’Brien hopes to focus on safety while navigating the case situation.

“It’s important for us to assess test results and the positivity rate for our community’s safety,” Hazell-O’Brien said. “In addition, there are LA County-mandated masking steps in place that we need to adhere to, and we want to make sure we’re following all the new protocols to keep our community safe.”

Freshman Eden Oje stayed home during the first in-person week back due to close contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case and said she is grateful for the remote space. She said she recognizes the importance of prioritizing safety in this uncertain time and hopes that staying isolated will avoid the risks that come with in-person school.

“Anyone at Archer can get this virus and spread it to everyone. It’s a constant thought in the back of my mind. Am I safe right now? Should I be around this person?” Oje said. “I never had to think that before COVID-19, but now I’m always thinking about it. It’s really upsetting.”

Archer’s COVID-19 regulations are updated regularly to best fit with the conditions of the virus in the Los Angeles area. Oje said she views the rules set in place as an assurance of stability within the community.

“I’m really thankful for these rules. They show how Archer is always trying their best to stay on their toes. They’re always ready to implement some new rules to keep us safe,” Oje said. “They are making quick changes on the top of their heads. It lets us know that people are trying to stay safe and Archer is not just letting it go.”

Looking into the future, Davis aspires for the surge to plummet and in-person school to become safer. In the meantime, Archer will continue to record cases on their parent and staff accessible COVID-19 dashboard and monitor the virus in the community.

“My hope is that within the next 30 days, this will subside. If we look at South Africa and the UK, that’s kind of what we’re seeing there and they’ve been precursors to us along the way,” Davis said. “We expect the positivity rate to go down for the testing that we did on Friday, and from the numbers, we’re doing substantially better than most schools.”