Cover photo illustrated by Justina Wilkins
As M-A students are returning from winter break, the surge in COVID-19 is noticeable across campus. In recent weeks, with the emergence of the Omicron variant, case numbers have skyrocketed not only in San Mateo County, but nationally and statewide as well. Yet there is no way for students to know how this surge is playing out on campus because the District’s COVID-19 Dashboard will not be updated until Friday, January 7th. It is district policy this year to post the number of staff and student cases each Friday.
We argue that the COVID-19 Dashboard should be updated daily, as cases are reported to schools, because the exponential nature of the pandemic means that just a few days of inaction can significantly harm our ability to stop the spread. Students, staff, and parents must be updated in order to ensure their safety.
While it is obvious to many that M-A is in the middle of the highest case rate it has seen since we returned to in-person instruction, the District would not provide any data when contacted for comment, instead referring us to their Dashboard, which won’t be updated unil we’ve been back on campus for several days.
And it’s possible the information won’t even be posted this Friday. Immediately following Thanksgiving break, which also had the potential to cause a rise in cases, the Dashboard was updated four days late. We returned the 29th of November but our case rate wasn’t posted until December 7th even though data for that week should have been posted December 3rd. This meant that the information students received was at least four days late, considering that COVID cases are reported to the school throughout the week. If there had been a spike in cases on the Monday we returned, we wouldn’t have known about it for eight days.
According to the CDC, people can spread COVID-19 up to two days before their symptoms start, meaning it is possible for COVID-positive students or teachers to spread the virus to other people on campus before they even begin to exhibit symptoms. Receiving data at the end of the week only puts us farther behind the spread, so it is difficult to gauge how much COVID is actually spreading on campus.
Fortunately, even with delayed reporting, case rates stayed low in the weeks following Thanksgiving break, but that is not the case now. Omicron has magnified the problem and, according to The New York Times, “Omicron cases are doubling every two to four days—a much faster rate than Delta.” On January 4th, 2,749 new cases were reported in San Mateo County, more than double the 1,217 cases reported just one day earlier on January 3rd.
As the second semester starts, students are returning to M-A after traveling and visiting their families, which, when compounded with how easily Omicron spreads, almost guarantees an uptick of cases on campus. This has been heavily felt at M-A as many students and nearly one-fifth of teachers have been absent from school. And, inaccuracy concerns aside, the Dashboard is one of the only ways that parents, students, and teachers can stay informed about the spread of COVID-19 on campus.
It is difficult for families to understand the risks of returning to school without up-to-date information from the Dashboard. Students and families deserve to know how safe school is for their children, since COVID-19 is very much a matter of life and death, especially for those who interact with vulnerable individuals. The District must update the COVID-19 Dashboard as cases are reported in order to ensure that both students and families are as safe as possible.