Coming out of the two-week absence from winter break, the omicron variant, a variant of COVID-19 with low virulence but high transmissibility, was a terrifying prospect in the minds of many members of the community. Belmont Hill had just returned to a state of relative normalcy with sit-down lunch and no mask requirement, so many feared that the omicron variant would cause the community to lose the freedoms it had worked so hard to restore. Testing data helps determine whether these fears are justified.
Over winter break, there were 33 self-reported cases of COVID and four positive tests among athletes who returned to campus for practice. Thus, 37/45 athletes—8% of the student body—tested positive for COVID over break. Notably, the data does not include faculty and staff, representing only the fraction of the student body tested over break. Undoubtedly, the number of cases was considerably higher.
The first all-school testing results after returning supported this notion, revealing that 7.1% (39/549) of students, faculty, and staff tested positive on campus, with 22 off-campus self-reported cases. For reference, in the week before break, testing revealed that only 0.3% (2/617) of those tested were infected with COVID-19. Interestingly, the rate of testing decreased dramatically after the break despite required testing for those on campus. It is apparent that students’ travels over break and the transmissibility of the omicron variant significantly diminished Belmont Hill’s safety from COVID.
The leaders of the community, cognisant that many members of the community might have traveled or had close contact with infected people, chose to reimpose various aspects of COVID-protocol such as a mask requirement and the removal of sit-down lunch to mitigate the effects of omicron. Masking has become required in both the classroom and the athletic facilities, and students are required to eat in isolated pods in various parts of the campus. Moreover, the school has made various accommodations for virtual students to help everyone stay up to date with their learning.
Despite several pandemic-related challenges, Belmont Hill has remained in person—an impressive feat especially considering the high number of school closings. The school’s administration acted quickly and effectively, minimizing the spread of a virus while maintaining as much of the typical Belmont Hill experience as possible. Hopefully, the school will see a return to normalcy in the near future.