Omicron surge hits EHS


Kederson Pierre

Rapid antigen Covid tests like these are being used by health workers and teachers at EHS to help curb the spread of the highly infectious Omicron variant. Symptomatic students can be tested in school

It’s the new year and Covid is spreading like crazy.

Everyday we’re getting a notification from Mr. Naumann or Dr. Tringali confirming how many cases there were on that particular day. It has begun to scare the students all over the building. It has us all questioning should we go back to remote learning? Should we keep coming to school? Is it even safe anymore? 

This current surge of the Omicron variant hit the hardest during the first two weeks of January where there were many student and staff absences and a high number of positive cases being reported.

“Everett High has about 2,000 students and right now about 700 of them are absent,” school nurse Angela Ciaramaglia said on Wednesday, January 5. On one day we had more than 10 students testing positive for Covid. We are all taking precautions but we don’t know if what we are doing will be enough to keep our school safe.”

“We don’t know the exact number of students that have Covid because this number keeps increasing, but I believe that we have about 100 students who got tested positive,” Ciaramaglia said. “This is just what I think, we don’t have any information to confirm that. I also don’t think that the school administration can guarantee that this information is legit because of the number of students who are sick but are not reporting to the school what they have.” 

“We are still tracking all the positive cases even though we are not doing close contact tracing in school anywmore, so if someone has tested positive at home you should still let us know,” Health Coordinator Julie Ann Whitson said. “If someone in your family is positive it’s really not that important unless you are not vaccinated, because if you are not vaccinated, you still need to quarantine if you have someone in your family who is positive, tell your dean or me and quarantine.”

“We need to spread awareness of the QR code that we have for parents and guardians to access and fill up a Google form giving consent for students to get tested in the building without having to call the parent to ask for formal consent,” said Ciaramaglia.  “Students that are sick need to stay home and get tested. It is public knowledge that you are not supposed to go to a public place if you have Covid symptoms or any other virus.” 

“Being vaccinated will help so it is very important to get vaccinated,” Whitson said. “We will still test symptomatic students. Any symptoms at all can get tested but it’s really important to have that consent to get tested. Only about 900 of our students have their parents complete the consent for in school testing.”

“Our goal was to get at least 80% of the students fully vaccinated so we could be even more safe but that has not happened yet, and I’m not saying that the vaccine is 100% effective, but it would decrease the chance to spread the virus around the school and the symptoms would probably be less intense than it is right now,” Ciaramaglia said. 

“I don’t know what the exact numbers [of vaccinated students] are, but I’m hoping that those numbers have gone up, but I don’t actually know what the exact numbers are,” said Naumann.

“The vaccination rate has definitely gone up. I can’t tell you what the percentage is, but as we have positive cases, and started to do tracking and tracing within the school, and when we have a positive case, we have a lot more people that are telling us they are getting vaccinated,” said school nurse Ciaramaglia.

“Something else that needs to be said is that many students who are fully vaccinated still test positive for Covid.  Of course there is a big difference between students who are vaccinated and the students who are not vaccinated. So the biggest message that I have for students is: if you are sick, stay at home and get tested. Maybe try to get the vaccine, think about other people in the building, when we are all part of a community, we need to make sure that we are protecting each other and not just ourselves,” said Ciaramaglia.

With the recent surge in cases, one of the biggest problems for the school has been figuring out a way to let all students eat lunch safely without increasing the risk of spreading too much. A lot of changes to the typical lunch schedule had to be made.

“We’re trying to reduce the amount of kids that are in lunch at one time and keep people all facing the same way so people aren’t facing each other to prevent the spread,” principal Erick Naumann said.

Students at lunch are now being asked to all sit on the same side of the table so as not to breathe directly into one another’s faces. This has resulted in changes to period 3 and the lunch schedule to accommodate less people in the cafeteria at once (Keder)

The lunch changes have created a few little hiccups,” English teacher Dana Oppedisano said. “As far as you know, third period yesterday was close to about 2 hours long, but I think it’s a step in the right direction. If we can minimize the number of people that are in the cafeteria, everyone breathing in the same direction and not into each others’ faces, it’s a good thing. It’ll probably take us a few weeks to kind of smooth out the process, but everything that we do in that vein is a step in the right direction.”

In addition to the lunch changes, school officials are continuing many of the same safety precautions we have been practicing all year, except perhaps with a little more emphasis now.

I definitely think that everybody needs to remain vigilant, social distance when possible, wash hands, and sanitize,” Oppedisano said. “Realistically we just have to do what we’ve been doing, and that’s masks up, hands-washed, sanitizer, try to remain distant. It’s far from perfect, but the only alternative I think might solve everything would be if we shut down society again, and I think we can agree that we don’t want that.”

“We make sure all the hand sanitizers are filled and ready to go, try to keep the soap in the bathroom so people wash their hands,” said Naumann. “We try to remind students every day about social distance, and to put their mask over their nose and their mouths. We are hoping that will keep the cases down. We are taking extra precautions to try to keep the numbers down because we’d like to have kids in school.”

“We are masking, we are telling people to stay home when they are sick. We also have testing for the kids that develop symptoms. They can get parental consent to do a Covid-19 rapid test,” said Ciaramaglia. “We also have air purifiers running in most of the classrooms, if not all. Hopefully there is a robust cleaning that has been happening after the school.”

“Right now all that we can do for the school environment to stay safe is to get tested outside of the school if you have any symptoms, and if you have a test that is negative but you still have the symptoms stay at home till you feel better, get tested again make sure that you are negative for Covid and then you can come back to school,” Ciaramaglia said.

“We will be making home tests available every week for students and staff later on this week or next week for students,” Whitson said. “We are going to have an open form so we really want students and their families to sign up and every week they can pick up their home test and test themselves at home to make sure they are negative.”

“There was a distribution of at-home tests,” Oppedisano said. “But they went out fast. So I know there’s a huge demand for them. I think ideally if they’re reliable and they’re accurate, then best case scenario every student could test themselves at home but I know the availability of those tests are pretty low right now. We as teachers all did home tests so at least there’s a little bit of certainty on our end, I think that’s why so many teachers have been out the first couple of days back. If we could get them all then that’s fantastic. I think that’s a great idea.”

Even given the extra safety precautions taken by the school in regards to lunch and testing symptomatic students, not everyone has felt safe during these first few weeks of January as Covid rates reached astronomical numbers not seen before at any point in the pandemic and it seemed like everyone knew a bunch of people personally who were contracting the virus.

“I don’t feel safe at school,” said senior Livia Riggin. “The number of cases is on the rise again, but I don’t see any changes besides the lunch schedule being made. Not all students are wearing masks properly and teachers can only do so much to keep everyone in check.”

“Having this many kids in a school isn’t exactly the best way to stop the spread,” Riggin added. “However, at the same time I understand the effects it has had on everyone’s mental health to go back online. It’s my senior year and we all want to have fun. But at the same time, we can’t be selfish. It’s hard to find the right answer, but at the end of the day, everyone’s safety should be the top priority.” 

“I understand the safety aspect of going remote,” said Oppedisano. “Personally, I would be miserable, Seriously. I’ve joked with my kids that I’m going to go find another line of work if we go remote again just because, this is why we do this everyday. Kids smiling, kids learning, kids nodding along when I say something remotely interesting. It’s very, very difficult remotely and I think everybody in the building would say that last year is sadly not a complete year. I don’t want to say a lost year but a lot of kids missed out on stuff that we do in-person that you just can’t substitute for remote learning, and I would be very disappointed if all of a sudden these kids that I see every single day were only able to see me on a computer, especially for the rest of the year. If we had to do a week or two to just get caught up, then I would understand. Let everybody get healthy, let everybody get their tests back, but I would be pretty heartbroken. We’re at the whim of the governor and the secretary of education.”

“Right now officials in big cities think that the safest place for kids to be is in school,” Oppedisano said. “And we had that discussion because a year ago at this time school wasn’t a safe place to be. Now with Omicron, apparently, it’s okay for all of us to be close to one another so a lot of the science raises more questions than it answers, but as teachers we’re literally at the whim of the governor. If the governor says we have to be in person learning then you gotta be here everyday, as long as we’re healthy.”

“I feel safe coming to school,” said Naumann. “I like seeing kids learning, I like to be in school. I like the interaction but again I want to be safe, and I know people are nervous about it.”

I think we have this tendency to get panicked, and panicked pretty easily,” Oppedisano said. “Especially when we all get the emails that say so many students have tested positive and so many teachers have tested positive, but the reality is that I’ve been careful since September, here with the same number of students everyday, and I haven’t got Covid. Knock on wood. So, you know I think if I were to let myself get panicked or feel unsafe or worried now, it would hinder me as a teacher, so truthfully I think we’re all at a little bit of a risk but if we take the precautions that we’ve all been taking, particularly those of us that haven’t had it yet, then we’re ultimately fairly safe, I think.”

“I really prefer to be in person, I think it’s important for students to be in the building,” said Dr. Tringali. “At the same time for everyone to be safe, I look for the experts that make that decision and I will follow what the experts tell us what to do.” 

“We are taking a lot of precautions,” Tringali said. “I feel comfortable with what we’re doing and as always if anyone feels unsafe or has any health concerns they can reach out to their doctor or talk to us.”