Loosened COVID protocols include elimination of cafeteria barriers


Divya Ponda and Rani Ogden

This week, the school implemented several new COVID policies, including the removal of plastic barriers in the cafeteria, the removal of masks outside and in eating spaces, and the reinstatement of Dorr and division-specific events, Head of School Dr. Tom Kelly wrote in an email to parents on January 30 2022. 

“It’s been a long two years. I feel like our numbers are incredibly encouraging. We have virtually nobody nursery through 12 who are isolating for COVID,” Head of the Upper Division (UD) Dr. Jessica Levenstein said. Levenstein is excited to see what happens when a few restrictions are lifted in a fully vaccinated community, she said. 

The school removed the barriers after recent studies showed that barriers are relatively ineffective, Levenstein said. “We learned things over the course of the pandemic, and one of the things we realized is that these barriers don’t really do much.”

In fact, Middle Division (MD) and UD Nurse DeAnna Cooper wrote that keeping barriers in the cafeteria may even facilitate the spread of COVID-19. “Barriers actually inhibit air flow, so no dividers may be safer for the cafeteria,” Cooper wrote. 

Ben Wu (11) thought that the barriers would be one of the last restrictions to be removed, he said. “It did come as a bit of a surprise, especially because it was sent out in an email over the weekend and the next day the barriers were just totally gone except for the ones in the library,” Wu said.

The removal of barriers has changed Levenstein’s experience eating in the cafeteria, she said. “It just seemed really depressing to eat there before with the plastic barriers and so I preferred not to,” she said. “It was great to talk freely with colleagues and not have to say ‘What? What?’ It feels like we are returning to some happier days, so it’s had a great personal impact.” 

The cafeteria has become a better place for socialization now that the plastic barriers have been removed, Peter Yu (11) said. “Lunch has been much more enjoyable,” he said. “I get to sit with all my friends and just having conversation is much easier without literal plastic barriers in your face. The cafeteria is now a much more lively space, and there’s much more apt for conversation and socializing.”

Kailyn Ortiz (11), however, does not feel comfortable eating in the cafeteria with the new COVID protocols, as she is nervous about potentially transmitting the virus to friends who have high risk relatives, she said. “I avoid the cafeteria entirely,” she said. “I usually just get my food and then leave immediately because there’s just so many people around with no masks.” 

The new COVID protocols will also have a significant impact on the Lower Division, Levenstein said. “The Lower Division kids have been doing recess with their masks on since Fall of 2020. So, I think the really big impacts are going to be felt more there than here.”

Furman is glad that the school is finally rolling back COVID restriction, he said. “I think at this point, really the last major restriction to get over will be masks,” Furman said. 

Yu believes that the school should move forwards in terms of ending the mask mandate entirely, he said. “As far as I’m concerned, at this point, COVID isn’t that dangerous for kids, especially when they are triple or double vaxxed. At this point, it just doesn’t really serve a purpose,” Yu said. 

Depending on the cases, Levenstein said that the mask mandate could be ended this year. “I can’t predict the future, but judging by this trend, I would think it is possible that that could happen this year,” Levenstein said. 

However, when Levenstein relayed this information to her English class, students expressed mixed feelings about the end of the mask mandate, she said. “I think most people are very excited about that idea, but I’m sure there’s also anxiety that comes with that,” she said. 

The school wants to take its time as other restrictions are removed and make sure that the data backs up all of the decisions, while making sure that everyone is psychologically ready for each step, Levenstein said. “Thank you to the student body for helping us get to this point.”