School Responds to Omicron Surge

In January 2022, the seven-day average of new COVID cases nationwide reached 806,851 cases per day, the highest spike since the pandemic began. This spike reflects the massive impact of the newly dominant COVID variant, Omicron.

The highly-infectious Omicron strain was first detected in South Africa in November 2021 and quickly spread internationally. Two COVID vaccine doses have proven to be significantly less effective against this variant, consequently leading to a drastic increase in breakthrough cases. These factors have contributed to the rapid transmission of the variant and in turn have increased the risk of a coronavirus outbreak on campus, causing the school to rethink COVID protocols. Dr. Zachary McClain, the school’s medical director, said, “The cases that we’ve seen on arrival from break have been more than we’ve seen on campus throughout the pandemic. However, we prepared for that because based on the contagiousness and prevalence of the Omicron variant, as well as seeing what happened at our peer schools who started a week before us, we knew there would be a significant increase in campus cases.”

In response to the Omicron variant surge, the administration delayed students’ arrival date by one week from January 4 and 5 to January 11 and 12. Upon returning to campus, students quarantined in their rooms and attended online classes for the first three days of classes. The Dining Hall and Snack Bar converted to a grab-and-go system, and students ate in their rooms. Additionally, all co-curriculars were postponed until COVID test results returned. 

Fortunately, due to a lower number of COVID-positive cases and close contacts than expected, Mr. Steve McKibben, dean of community life, anounced the transition to a “semi-quarantine” on Saturday, January 15, until a full reopening on Tuesday, January 18. In the days following the announcement, COVID restrictions loosened to permit in-person classes, in-person dining, interdorming, and interscholastic sports. 

Regarding the risks of interscholastic sporting and interactions with other schools, Mr. McKibben said, “We can’t control other schools and their safety protocols. Luckily, the Founders League schools, the schools we compete with most often, all share our philosophy and practice of testing and communal safety, so I feel comfortable with students competing.”

Moreover, in response to the Federal Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) authorization of the Pfizer and Moderna booster shot for people over the age of twelve and CDC recommendations, the school hosted a booster clinic on Thursday, January 20. In an email to the community, the school strongly encouraged all eligible students to receive a booster vaccination, which has been proven to limit the severity of illness after catching Omicron and offer increased protection against infection. Dr. McClain said, “We believe the booster will help all of us prevent severe disease, even moderate disease. We know that with the contagiousness of the Omicron variant, however, there is the potential we still get it, we just won’t get too sick.”

Although many locations are only just beginning to see a spike in cases, data has revealed that the Omicron variant has already peaked in many of its original hotspot locations, including Connecticut, suggesting that the Omicron wave in the U.S. may decline by the end of the month.