Omicron is here. Mitigation continues.


Henry Burkhardt

BinaxNOW rapid Covid tests we’re distributed to students last week.

The newest and most transmissible COVID-19 variant yet, Omicron, is here and altering the school day. The variant spreads more easily than the original COVID-19 virus. Anyone with an Omicron infection can spread the virus regardless of their vaccination status. Breakthrough infections in people who are fully vaccinated are expected to occur. Dozens of schools in Minnesota have moved to distance learning, including Minneapolis Public Schools, until the end of the month due to case numbers at the school. St. Paul students walked out on Jan. 18, demanding for two weeks of distance learning, or other more severe safety measures.

To put the increased transmission rate of Omicron into the context of the SPA community, the Randolph campus had a total of 14 infected students at the end of the first semester. Within the first two weeks of the second semester, there were 54 positive cases from students in the Randolph campus. That includes students who tested positive over winter break. The Assistant Head of School, Jill Romans, said “We know that there’s a lot of breakthrough cases and our community is a really good example. We are a very highly vaccinated community, and we still are having these numbers now. Our numbers are not matching what is happening outside and that’s a good thing. But we know it’s highly transmissible and we know that lots of lots of people are just going to get it. It’s kind of everywhere. It’s one of those times when you say community spread is active, and it’s everywhere and we can’t assume that it’s not. So knowing that, what are the things that we can do to help keep everybody in school? Because that’s our role.”

Statewide daily reported cases in Minnesota from March 2020 to present. Calculated from a 7 day rolling average.

Implementing policies such as limiting singing in choirs, seating in the dining hall, and eating snacks in the hallways allows the school to limit transmission between students and teachers to keep everyone in school for longer.

Given the recent influx of COVID-19 cases on campus, a common concern among students and parents alike is the possibility of transitioning to a distance learning format. While multiple schools in the metro area have transitioned online in the past week, Romans is confident that given the current, relatively mild, infection and absence rates at SPA, a transition to online school remains unlikely. She noted that while the school does not have a concrete threshold of cases or absences that would trigger a transition to distance learning, she said, “We can’t run our program if our teachers aren’t here, right? So that’s a lot of the reasons why the public schools are shutting down right now. It’s because the teachers aren’t there. They don’t have the staff to run the school.” Romans also added that any transition to distance would likely be, “short term, just to get everybody through their isolation period and healthy, but again, I would imagine that would be a short reset.”

Statewide daily reported deaths from March 2020 to present. Calculated from a 7 day rolling average.

In an email on Friday, Head of School Brynn Roberts reaffirmed that “having students attend class in-person for five days each week in the safest possible environment,” and announced to the community that on-campus rapid testing would now be available to students. On the same day, each student in the Upper School was sent home with an at-home rapid test, for use by the student if they begin exhibiting symptoms at home. Roberts also addressed the recent update in the CDC and Minnesota Department of Health quarantine guidelines (shortening the isolation period from 10 to 5 days), writing that the school is “examining this new guidance carefully and will notify the community when we have decided how to proceed.”
For now, students are instructed to follow the guidelines. N95, KN95, and KF94 are encouraged on campus. Students can not eat except for in the dining hall and in advisory locations. All students must remain in the designated four person pods during lunch, to facilitate easy contact tracing. Students have also been asked to limit the amount of time they have their masks off while eating. Everyone must wear masks during inside athletic practices. Students should use the at-home tests if they have symptoms, and stay home.

Daily reported cases by county from March 2020 to present. Calculated from a 7 day rolling average.

Data in this article is sourced from The New York Times, based on reports from state and local health agencies. Graphs and reports are updated once per day at 6am. Daily reported cases for the current day are based off the average of the number of cases or deaths reported over the previous seven days . More information about the data can be found here.