Administration announces COVID-19 safety protocols as both campuses reopen at full capacity

Adam+Luse+%2723+prepares+to+receive+a+COVID-19+nose+swab+test+from+a+Mend+Urgent+Care+representative+at+the+school%27s+drive-thru+rapid+testing+facility+Friday.

Justin Goldstein/Chronicle

Adam Luse ’23 prepares to receive a COVID-19 nose swab test from a Mend Urgent Care representative at the school’s drive-thru rapid testing facility Friday.

Tessa Augsberger and Milla Ben-Ezra

President Rick Commons released COVID-19 protocols and other reopening guidelines for the upcoming year in an all-school email sent Aug. 17. Both campuses will reopen at full capacity, resuming all campus programs in accordance with Los Angeles County Department of Public Health guidelines.

Students will be required to wear masks indoors but may choose to wear either KN-95 or two-ply masks. Similarly, athletes must wear masks when practicing a sport indoors but are not required to wear them if training outdoors.

Varsity cross country runner Leo Craig ’24, who wore a mask while practicing last year in alignment with school guidelines, said he is grateful that he can run without a mask this season.

“I think having the mask on sort of hindered our performance in allowing us to run as best as we could,” Craig said. “We obviously weren’t running as fast as we would have without the masks, but our coach did try and show us the bright side. Being able to breathe in less air sort of does help a little bit. It’s almost as if you were running at altitude. But, just not having the mask on is a positive overall and just makes the running easier and less exhausting.”

The school also implemented a vaccine mandate for all students, faculty and staff. Students and faculty with documented medical grounds, sincerely held religious beliefs or age-related vaccine eligibility issues are exempt from the requirement. Those who have not yet filed their proof of full vaccination will not be allowed on campus.

Students are also required to submit proof of a negative baseline COVID-19 test results in August. The school will offer several opportunities for on-campus drive-thru testing via Mend Urgent Care on campus Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Associate Head of School Laura Ross said the purpose of the school’s vaccine mandate is to ensure the school community can safely transition back to in-person school.

“Our most important goal is [that] we want students, teachers and [the rest of] our community to feel safe coming back together,” Ross said. “The science is becoming very clear, even with breakthroughs, that the incidences of serious illness are much less pronounced for people who are vaccinated.”

Although he said classes will take place entirely in person, Commons said the school will continue to use Zoom as a substitute for in-person learning if a student is sick and unable to attend their classes on campus.

“We are not making online school an option or a choice that somebody can make,” Commons said. “Yet, we will use the advantages we’ve learned from being online to take care of students who are not feeling well and should stay home […] I want us to use what we learned from remote school to give people the opportunity to be careful about the community and to give themselves the rest they might need without falling as far behind.”

Contact tracing procedures will only be implemented if there is a confirmed positive case of COVID-19 on campus.

Commons said he believes the school’s COVID-19 protocols will prompt community members to be more considerate of others’ comfort levels in social interactions.

“I think we’re going to be more attentive to one another,” Commons said. “It doesn’t take very long to make sure that somebody is comfortable shaking hands before you shake hands or to make sure that somebody is comfortable taking off a mask outside before you take off the mask outside […] I think we’ve all become really careful about protecting the community, and I see that as a very positive outcome.”

Junior Prefect Aiko Offner ’23 said that although she expects the return to school this fall to feel different from the return to campus last spring, she hopes the student body will maintain last year’s community spirit.

“I honestly hope we can maintain the energy we had last year and the appreciation we had for each other and [about] being with each other because I think that was really special and I never really felt that at school before,” Offner said. “I think the little bit of leniency we have with the new guidelines will help make the community a little more relaxed […] Hopefully, a combination of last year’s spirit and a little bit of typical normalcy will make this year different but also really amazing.”

Harvard-Westlake Outreach Performers (HWOP) leader Gisele Stigi ’22 echoed Offner’s sentiment about the newly relaxed restrictions, saying she is eager to regain the camaraderie that comes from rehearsing an in-person performance as a senior.

“No one’s been able to really perform on a stage in such a long time,” Stigi said. “Being able to be in a senior year production would really mean a lot to me, and I know it would mean a lot to the other seniors because our last chance performing [together] is really special.”

Commons said he hopes current seniors will continue to foster last spring’s sense of excitement from being back on campus together.

“I’m counting on the class of 2022 to carry forward the festive atmosphere and the joy of being back at school and being together,” Commons said. “We didn’t know how much we’d lost until we were apart from one another for more than a year, and it has made us recognize that school is not the same without the chance to be together.”