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The Student News Site of Washington International School

International Dateline

The Student News Site of Washington International School

International Dateline

How WIS’s COVID Response went from a 7 to a 4-

A WIS student’s faintly positive COVID-19 test. This student, along with dozens of their classmates, tested positive during the COVID-19 outbreak in late April. (Courtesy of Elektra Gea-Sereti)

If you woke up with a churning sense of dread on Monday, April 25, you’re not alone. The day before, my mother had told me at least six kids had tested positive in Upper School just days after the long-awaited Spring Fling had happened on Friday, April 22. 

When I walked downstairs and unlocked my phone, a stream of messages from my friends flooded my screen. Someone in our friend group had tested positive for COVID-19. 

While a COVID case doesn’t inspire the same panic that it did two years ago, texts like that still fill us with a certain amount of anxiety. We now know much more about COVID than we once did, but much remains obscure. 

Symptoms range from nonexistent to barely being able to move. Students who test positive miss out on school and remain in isolation, all while life is finally heading back to normal. 

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Realizing that the Spring Dance had probably been the vector for the virus, I thought about how exposed its attendees had been. Almost nobody wore masks, no testing was required, and non-WIS students were allowed to attend as long as they showed proof of vaccination, which doesn’t ensure solid protection against the new COVID sub-variants.  

It’s not just the variants that are concerning. It’s also the fact that vaccinations may not even protect you from them. A 2021 article from The Lancet explains how breakthrough cases have been emerging at an increasing rate. 

In one study of fully vaccinated individuals, the 88% effectiveness in the first month turned into a 47% effectiveness by the fifth. With the Delta variant, effectiveness started at 93% and declined to 53% after four months. With non-Delta variants, effectiveness started at 97% and declined to 67% after 4 to 5 months. Since WIS has had a vaccine mandate since September 2021, each student who tested positive had previously been vaccinated. 

The lack of safety measures at Spring Fling helped fuel an almost “super-spreader” event that happened at an unfortunate time for many students. 10th graders were about to have their New York trip, initially planned for May 2, while the seniors began IB exams as early as Thursday, April 28. 

On April 27, over 30% of 11th and 10th graders were sick and over 25% of the entire Upper School had COVID, according to the WIS COVID website. Measures should have been implemented even before the spring dance, as cases have been increasing in D.C. for months. 

According to the CDC, on April 20 the 7-day moving average of daily new cases increased by 35.3%, from 31,495 to 42,605. With cases rising, more measures were needed to limit the potential spread of COVID-19. 

At this point, the national strategy seems to involve getting on with life while learning to deal with COVID-19. But that shouldn’t mean disregarding every single regulation designed to minimize the spread. 

There are still people that are immunocompromised and there are students with parents or grandparents for whom COVID poses a legitimate health risk. While we want to return to normalcy, we have to keep in mind that there are still people who can’t afford to become infected. 

At this point in the pandemic, widely-available COVID mitigation strategies exist. For example, while at-home tests were once practically impossible to obtain, libraries on street corners now give them away for free, including the Cleveland Park Library just a few steps from WIS’s Tregaron campus. 

There are plenty more locations where one can easily acquire tests. While antigen tests aren’t as sensitive as a PCR, if your antigen test comes back negative but you do have COVID, your viral load is likely still low enough that you are not yet highly transmissible, according to UMass

Restrictions for Spring Fling should have included showing a negative test. Since cases are spiking, masking at the dance, or in the week after, would also have been a good idea. While we don’t particularly enjoy wearing masks, the upward surge of cases in the region should have been a hint that the Spring Fling would be a relatively high exposure event. 

Reinstating masks could have prevented the surge and spread that occurred. While WIS is sticking to D.C. Health recommendations, the school also has the privilege of being a private school and being able to make choices based on its community. With reports of multiple cases in multiple grades, the school could have easily re-enforced a temporary mask mandate, until the wave had passed. 

When the outbreak began, WIS amended the sophomore New York trip and required a negative antigen test by Monday, May 2. Additionally, the school changed rooms on the trip so that students who were recently sick would be in one room together, and not with others. Masking was also enforced for those who were recently ill. 

But, by implementing these measures, WIS was ignoring CDC and D.C. Health guidelines say that a person who has tested positive should not be traveling for 10 days after their positive test, even if they have tested negative by antigen. 

The new variant is highly contagious, and with a lack of masks and mask mandate, it isn’t hard to transmit. While risks are lower for teenagers, they still exist, including hospitalization, intensive care, and a ventilator, according to the CDC

Though I was wearing a mask at school, I didn’t wear a mask to the dance, and I deeply regret it. I know that if a mask had been mandatory, the quiet uncertainty in my mind would have been silenced, and I and many others may not have tested positive. 

A mask and a simple antigen test would’ve been the best way to go. The best way to move forward is to exercise basic prevention methods, such as readily available at-home tests for big events. 

By Elektra Gea-Sereti

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About the Contributor
Elektra Gea-Sereti
Elektra Gea-Sereti, Opinions Editor
Hi my name is Elektra and I am a senior plus the Opinions editor. I have been at Dateline since 9th grade, and my opinion articles range from social media trends to movie reviews. While not being opinionated can be strenuous, I do write the occasional sports, features, and food article. Outside of Dateline, you can find me on the volleyball court, or debating people in Mock Trial. 

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