Editorial: Stricter COVID measures are needed

In the one-month period following the beginning of winter break, Northshore School District saw a tenfold increase in total new COVID cases, peaking at a record 163 on Jan. 18 alone. With high numbers of staff and teachers in quarantine, the demand for substitutes quickly outpaced the supply—and still does. Several schools across the district, including Inglemoor, were forced to acknowledge the uncontrollable situation and switch to remote learning for the first time this school year. This outbreak was a clear indication that the school’s guidelines at the time were inadequate for dealing with the highly transmissible Omicron variant or any future variants. Additional and more comprehensive measures and restrictions need to be implemented and enforced in order to control the spread of the virus and the ramifications it has for our education.

The simplest COVID-19 prevention measures are guidelines for individuals, such as wearing masks and social distancing. However, many students fail to abide by these rules, either deliberately or out of apathy. Granted, maintaining a 3-foot distance from others can be difficult in many school settings such as a crowded cafeteria. But wearing a mask improperly or not at all is inexcusable not only because wearing a mask is a banal inconvenience at worst, but also because not wearing one puts others in the vicinity at a much higher risk. It was good to hear recently that the school has established a new mask policy, as it creates actual, concrete deterrents for students to follow COVID-19 guidelines. Now, on a student’s first offense of wearing a mask incorrectly, they will be reminded by a staff member; on the second, they will receive a referral for after-school detention; on the third, they will be assigned a 2-hour Saturday School; and on the fourth, they will be assigned a 4-hour Saturday School. These efforts to enforce existing rules should be applauded.

With a large number of people still eating lunch inside, the opportunities for COVID-19 to spread are worryingly ample. Tables are routinely filled to the brim with people sitting and eating right next to each other, often with masks off even while they are not “actively eating or drinking.” Some ideas proposed, such as labeling socially-distanced or assigned seating, demonstrates unrealistic expectations of high school students.

Encouraging outside eating will become a more viable option as the weather warms up, but it is not entirely feasible yet. However, one possible immediate solution that schools should consider is adding a third lunch to the two lunch periods that exist now in order to reduce the number of people in the cafeteria at any given time. This would naturally space people out. In addition, students could be more evenly spread among different lunches; currently, there seems to be a massive imbalance between the A and B lunches in terms of the number of students assigned to each. Contact tracing is one method the district has been using from the very beginning to track the spread of COVID-19.

If a student tests positive for COVID-19, everyone in close contact with them is notified and asked to quarantine if they are unvaccinated or vaccinated and symptomatic. However, the current contact tracing system—including scanning QR codes on doors and cafeterias and the required creation of classroom seating charts—is inadequate. The QR codes are scanned rarely, at best, and seating arrangements are infrequently enforced. Efforts be undertaken to regularly reemphasize to students the importance of these measures.

With the transmission rate of Omicron as high as it currently is, schools cannot play fast and loose with COVID-19 regulations. Hopefully, recent adjustments to school policies will reduce positivity rates and keep staff and students safer. It is crucial that the district does their part by continuing to implement tighter restrictions when deemed necessary by data if we want to keep attending school in-person and return to normal life.