After nearly two years of health protocols and mask mandates, the COVID-19 pandemic seems never-ending. However, in a calm after the most recent spike of cases, Walpole High School has enacted new COVID-19 policies in hopes of restoring a sense of normalcy to school.
WHS has been using a Test-and-Stay policy since early in the school year. This program allows students who have been contact-traced to get tested for COVID-19 conveniently through the school. If a student were to be named a close contact, they would be called down to the nurses’ office, where they would take a test before returning to class. They must test daily for seven days, however, they can avoid having to self-quarantine.
However, on Jan. 18, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker announced a new initiative which replaces this former Test-and-Stay program. Schools across Massachusetts can opt for the At-Home Test Method, in which the state would
provide any participating staff and students with one at-home COVID-19 test per week. Unless the test is positive, they are able to attend school as normal, without the fear of becoming contact traced.
“Providing this option for at-home testing will allow school nurses to spend more time identifying symptomatic individuals and focus their efforts on other aspects of COVID-19 management in our schools,” Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Jeffrey Riley said. “It’s frankly a game changer.”
Additionally, on Feb. 10, the Walpole School Committee voted in favor of removing the mask mandate at Walpole High. With this new policy, masks become optional for all students and staff members, regardless of vaccination status. This plan went into effect after Feb. 14 for high school students and staff and Feb. 28 for the remainder of Walpole schools.
“I think if the community rate is at 3% or less and the majority of people are vaccinated, then I don’t think it’s a bad idea to get rid of the masks, or at least make them optional,” Walpole High School Nurse Rachel Jackson said.
After two years of cancellations and postponements, Walpole High students are desperate for a sense of normalcy at school. However, the loosening of these restrictions seems to bode well for the future. In addition, the approval of a junior and senior prom for the first time since 2019 has provided students with an enhanced sense of optimism as they enter the second half of the school year.
“I think that the way we deal with COVID-19 is changing and people are really starting to realize that this is going to be something that is going to be out there,” Jackson said. “We kind of have to learn how to live with it instead of trying to get rid of it because I don’t think it’s going anywhere, so we have to be more realistic about the way we are going to approach it.”