Melody Howe ‘22 News Reporter
The coronavirus pandemic has raised concerns and fear across the world, and, not surprisingly, a challenge for Mercersburg Academy and boarding schools across the globe. However, Mercersburg’s community and faculty have put non-stop effort into maintaining a safe environment for functioning a boarding school while being cautious of the COVID-19 risk factors. As we prepare for the worst while staying one step ahead, it is crucial to have Head of School Katie Titus’ breakdown of the ultimate question: “What do we do if there is a positive COVID-19 test on campus?” During these unexpected and terrifying times, Mercersburg’s mission is to have one of the best in-person functioning boarding schools. With encouragement and optimism, Titus believes that Mercersburg’s strong community is up for the challenge.
There is a distinction between students and faculty when it comes to taking action for a positive COVID-19 test. Titus emphasizes, “Contact tracing will matter and who the positive test is will matter.” In the case of an infected faculty member, they would immediately go into isolation and contact tracing would simultaneously begin. But, faculty do not have the same interactions as students and do not come into contact with as many other community members. This means that a positive test for a faculty member would be a lot more manageable for the community.
However, if a student were to test positive, narrowing down the various possibilities of how the virus spread would not be not an easy task. Although the mobile contact tracing application, “Trace,” has been proven to be effective, it is more likely that a student would have been exposed to a larger group of people: in the dorm, at meals, during classes, clubs or PGA. Forms of contact between a positive student and others within six feet for more than 15 minutes would require a full two week isolation for all. This could lead to a domino effect for several groups of people potentially exposed to the virus. Titus confirmed that all those individuals would need to be quarantined alone and complete community testing.
Furthermore, Titus discusses the two types of testing that typically occur at colleges and other boarding schools. As most colleges attempt surveillance testing, where every few days they test either random groups or everybody on campus, “We chose not to do that because we chose to create our bubble. We are a smaller community and we felt like we could protect it. If we followed the rules of the masks and the distancing, we could test symptomatically,” said Titus. But, she still urges students to be cautious due to the imperfection and uncertainty of this on-campus experience. She continues, “Even though there’s an allusion of a bubble, I would like to think that our community can constantly remind ourselves we are not a perfect bubble and one positive test could really create a lot of problems for us.”
Mercersburg has been monitoring the immediate area of campus. However, it is the next layer outside campus that has raised concern. There are variables that are out of Mercerburg’s control that must be paid attention to. In addition, Titus’ biggest concern is that as we get deeper into the term with success, students may become more complacent about the virus and related protocols. She explains that students may not necessarily follow the rules as strictly as required when a faculty member is not present.
Titus’ message to the Mercersburg community is to focus on the goal of maintaining in-person learning on campus during this pandemic. She adds, “Our choices we make every single day matter and we need to remember that we have an obligation to each other, not just to ourselves.” Titus also mentioned the importance of leadership among students to nurture a healthy dynamic for the students and faculty: “Because of all of the restrictions and the One Mercersburg Promise, we get into this place where it doesn’t feel like Mercersburg because adults are policing students about their masks.” If each Mercersburg student and faculty member takes responsibility and follows safety precautions, the community can overcome this challenge and remain on campus.