In the past four weeks, senior Vivian Reyes has been in close contact with eight students on campus who have tested positive for COVID-19, a statistic that she is very alarmed by.
“My biggest concern is catching COVID because I do have parents who would probably get really sick really fast. It’s really scary,” Reyes said.
The past two months have seen a surge in COVID-19 cases in large part because of gatherings during the holiday season. On the first day of the third mester, Jan. 11, a total of 25 Daniel Pearl Magnet High School (DPMHS) students were not allowed on campus after receiving a positive COVID-19 baseline test. Due to safety concerns from the COVID-19 surge, the panorama picture for the senior class of 2022 was postponed from Feb. 8 to a date to be determined. History teacher Brenda Helfing’s Leadership class postponed a school dance, which was originally scheduled for late January, and canceled the last two Fiesta Fridays to prevent the potential spread of COVID-19.
On Jan. 22, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) sent an email explaining new protocols and mandates, holding out hope that the new safety measures will calm the worries of many. A major change was the prohibition of wearing solely a cloth mask for protection on campus. All at school must wear a medical-grade mask such as a surgical mask or an N95 mask. School Climate Advocate Magaly Ruiz has noticed an increase in seriousness regarding mask-wearing, a trend she hopes will continue.
“One thing I’ve noticed since we have come back from Winter Break is the students are so much better at wearing their masks,” Ruiz, who checks students into school every day at the main entrance, said. “I appreciate how seriously they have taken it. The students have shown a great deal of cooperation and understanding. That helps me feel more safe and it makes me feel like they’re being kept safe as well.”
Another new guideline explains what should be done if a student or staff member comes in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. According to the email, both vaccinated and unvaccinated close contacts may remain on campus as long as they do not experience symptoms. However, just because LAUSD has made it easier for close contact students to stay on campus, a whole day’s work is taken up by contact tracing.
“It was very challenging because once you had a positive case, we had to contact as many parents as we could,” Principal Armen Petrossian said. “Sometimes it was as accurate as it could be. We contacted as many students as we could.”
Ruiz and Martha Vargas, the school supervision aide, assist the principal in contact tracing, a tedious process that must be repeated every time a student tests positive.
“When we came back (from) break, it seemed like all of my time was consumed with the check-in, following up on any who tested positive and identifying the close contact students,” Ruiz said. “It was a big ordeal.”
According to Ruiz, the spread of COVID-19 at DPMHS has been more controlled thanks to the 4×4 schedule, which reduced the amount of classrooms students enter each day from six to four. Nevertheless, the thought of unknowingly catching COVID-19 at school and walking around campus with it is unsettling for many, including junior Jenica Felicitas.
“The fear is whether or not I’ll be spreading it without even knowing,” Felicitas said. “If I get it, yeah, that’s bad. But if I spread it to the people who are really close to me and who I really care about, then that’s also a bigger problem for me.”
On the minds of many is the possibility of reverting back to distance learning if COVID-19 conditions severely worsen. The majority do not prefer distance learning but understand that enforcing it would help stop the spread of COVID-19.
“Distance learning really messed me up mentally along with my grades,” Felicitas said. “So I don’t want to do that again. But if it does have to resort to that, then I will for my own safety and the safety of others.”
During the first two weeks of the third mester, many DPMHS students and faculty were absent because of contracting COVID-19 or because their baseline COVID-19 test results had not been posted yet. On Jan. 11, 34 students were not allowed on campus because they had not received their baseline test result, in addition to the 25 students who were absent due to testing positive. Such absenteeism created a dilemma for teachers because they do not have the time to pause teaching until everyone returns to school. Helfing instructs two AP classes during the last two mesters of the school year and she only has four months to prepare her students for the AP exams in May.
“It’s horrible,” Helfing said. “I can’t slow down. I’m already behind. I have everything on Schoology. I have it (organized) by folders. I’m just hoping that the kids who have been missing are keeping up with the content.”
According to the LAUSD COVID-19 Testing School Report Card, positive cases have declined at DPMHS since the beginning of the third mester. As of Feb. 4, DPMHS has zero positive cases among its students and faculty.
“The numbers say that it’s going down and I think there’s less absenteeism. So I think we’re going in the right direction,” Helfing said.