Latest virus variant forces several changes

By Kaylee Miyamoto, Hawkeye Staff

As the omicron variant of COVID-19 surged across the nation and within schools, Edmonds School District officials and the MTHS administration made various changes to attempt to prevent the further spread of the virus and protect students. The changes made ranged from cutting nutrition breaks in between classes to receiving more COVID tests for students with symptoms and those in close contact.

The district has an open COVID dashboard, with the aim of informing families of the positive cases along with close contacts among students and staff at each school.

As the spread increased and more positive cases were reported, the dashboard became overwhelmed and inaccurate. In order for a case to be reported as positive, the student must be notified. Then, contact tracing also must be performed. Only then is the case deemed positive on the dashboard.

With staff shortages at every school, contact tracing has been difficult. In addition to their day to day role as building leaders, administrators have been tasked with contact tracing as well. However, in an attempt to be more transparent, principal Greg Schellenberg began sending emails out to parents with an update on the daily positive cases at MTHS starting on Jan. 28, when cases were spiking. 

Close contact guidelines have also changed. From the beginning of the year until the month of January, each student was notified if they had been exposed as a result of being in close proximity to someone who tested positive for 15 minutes or more, regardless of setting and whether masks were worn or not. Today, a person is not considered close contact if they are in a setting, such as a classroom or structured environment outdoors, where masks are worn consistently. Based on these guidelines, the ESD announced in January that they would stop contact tracing those within the classroom as a result of proper mask wearing.

“We look at high priority [close contacts] on buses and if there is a special seating group of students in clusters in classrooms and we check the student’s vaccination status to notify them,” Schellenberg said. “Students are only notified if they are not vaccinated.”

To change the amount of time of possible spread, the school has also decided to cut the nutrition break so there is less time for students to interact with masks down. Social distancing is more up to discussion on how administration will enforce it as students stay close together in the halls and in groups during the passing period. 

Prior to the surge of the omicron variant, testing was one of the most effective ways to keep students and staff safe, as any student could get a test if they felt like they needed one or if they had been deemed a close contact. However, after the omicron variant began to spread, testing slowed down considerably, and students who wanted to be tested could not get one because of the lack of testing kits.

“I can’t remember the exact timeline, but testing was slow for many weeks,” Schellenberg said.

A minor change that has taken place in recent weeks is the county’s guidelines on the testing of athletes. Before, they were tested each day before practice. Now, they will be tested only before competitions.

“This didn’t make that much of a difference, as for many of our athletes, they have competition two to three times a week,” Schellenberg said. 

Testing kits have become more accessible to students in recent weeks, as the district recently obtained 10,000 Rapid COVID tests to distribute throughout the schools. Home testing kit results are being accepted to get back into the building, too.

According to the ESD website, those with a positive result can return five days after a positive test, so long as the student or staff member is fever free for 24 hours, and symptoms are resolved or absent. Those who had close contact do not need to be isolated, must have all primary vaccines (and boosters for those 18 and up) or receive positive COVID results within 90 days. Those with close contacts must be isolated if they have not received all primary COVID-19 vaccines as well as those who are 18 and up and did not receive the booster within the past two weeks of initial contact. To return after the five-day quarantine, you must also receive a negative test result. All information can be found on the Edmonds School District website under COVID Health/Safety.

We need to stay masked and keep each other safe, and if you have to constantly be reminded, there will be consequences,”

— Schellenberg

While students are still expected to social distance and to wear their masks, many are starting to forget, and more teachers and staff are constantly reminding them to keep their masks above their noses. The change in contact tracing rules in the classroom relies on proper mask wearing. Therefore, MTHS staff have been instructed to refer any student who has to be reminded more than twice to wear their masks properly to administrators.

“We need to stay masked and keep each other safe, and if you have to constantly be reminded, there will be consequences,” Schellenberg said.