Too Close For Comfort? – COVID Protocols in the Lunchroom Need Adjustment

By: Jackie Coleman

The United States rang in the new year with high hopes that the COVID-19 Pandemic would soon be behind us, yet four days later, the country recorded 1,082,549 ​​new COVID cases in a single day. As the Omicron variant continues to ravage America, the Shorecrest administration has promised our community that they are “implementing substantial processes to help avoid the risk of transmission of COVID on the School’s campus.” (https://www.shorecrest.org/health) However, I have not seen these “substantial processes” in the Charger Commons during lunch. More needs to be done to make lunch protocols safer, including allowing underclassmen to leave for lunch.

There are a lot of things our school has done right. We have a mask mandate, extensive cleaning crews, and now contact tracing, which cannot be said for Florida public schools and many other private schools. Although our school has responsibly implemented these safety precautions, all of these attempts to curb COVID infections seem to go out the window at lunch. As only seniors are able to leave campus during lunch, the majority of high school students and teachers pack into the Charger Commons daily. 

Although we now have the option to eat our lunches outside with disposable food containers, the lunchroom is always nearly filled to capacity anyway. Students crowd next to each other in line, masks off, and our administration seems to turn a blind eye. In the age of the highly transmissible Omicron variant, this will no longer do. 

I spoke to Head of School, Nancy Spencer, and expressed my concerns over lunch protocol. Mrs. Spencer reaffirmed that “masks should be worn anytime a student is indoors, and they should only be taken off when you are eating.” When I asked if she believed it would be safer to let students off campus for lunch instead of packing the Upper School into the Charger Commons, Mrs. Spencer replied that she “would need to be convinced that students going into cars, maskless, with friends and leaving campus was any safer than staying on campus.” While this is a valid concern, as being unmasked with others is not a good idea, I would argue that sitting in a car with four or five friends is safer than standing in a room with hundreds of other students: you would know far sooner if a friend has COVID than you would if a random student does, and exposing yourself to people outside of your friend group’s COVID bubble ensures uncontainable spread. 

Quickly testing and quarantining is vital in helping slow the spread of COVID, and a crowded room full of students you may not be familiar with does not allow those processes to happen fast enough. According to the COVID cases chart on PowerSchool (see below), at the January 11th mark, twenty-eight new cases of COVID had been reported in Upper School in a mere ten days. Twenty-eight cases in ten days. There is no clear answer on which option would make lunch safer, but the Shorecrest administration owes it to our community to make school as safe as possible, and allowing underclassmen to leave during lunch would provide one way we can help contain the spread of COVID and help our community ensure a safe learning environment.

Photo of the crowded Dining Room in Charger Commons (Photo by Miles Lucas)
PowerSchool chart of weekly COVID cases in the Upper School

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