BREAKING NEWS: Webb reports three positive COVID cases in six days

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The football team practices their plays on Thursday October 21st, to prepare for a game that was canceled the next day. Credit: Taylor Crawford (‘23)

On Thursday, October 28th, students received an email stating that a third positive COVID case had been discovered in the Webb community, four days after the second case was confirmed on Sunday, October 24th, and six days after the first case on Friday, October 22nd.

Amahl Thomas, the head football coach, was at practice on Friday afternoon when Webb received the news of the first case.

“We were literally at practice,” Coach Thomas said. “The administrators came to practice, and they were masked, so that was our first sign. At that point they said we had a positive case, Saturday’s game would be forfeited, and then players were asking ‘Well what about the rest of the season?’ The administration said, ‘We’re going to wait until Monday to make that decision.’”

However, Coach Thomas said the administration implied that the season might be canceled as a result of the two positive COVID cases.

“To my knowledge, Friday Night Lights was never cancelled, because that Friday they said we’re going to wait till Monday,” Coach Thomas said. “On Monday they determined that it is safe to proceed. It was alluded to that it might be cancelled, but I don’t think it was ever cancelled.”

Wednesday afternoon, students began flooding STAS with Friday Night Lights posts, urging students to come support the players and participate in the pink out for breast cancer awareness.

Their hopes, however, were crushed when Steve Wishek, the Athletics Director, sent an email stating that the rest of the football season would be cancelled.

“I’m definitely sad because our football game got canceled. Especially our Friday Night Lights game is getting canceled, which makes me really sad,” said Hank Sun (‘22), a senior football player.

Football players, and people who are considered to have been in close contact with the individual, have been tested daily since the first case announcement and will be tested daily again with the announcement of the third case.

In multiple emails, Dr. Theresa Smith, Associate Head of Schools, outlined the established protocols that Webb is following to deal with positive cases. The student will be PCR tested for confirmation, isolated, contact tracing will be performed, and the greater community and public health agencies will be informed.

Contact tracing will identify who had close contact with the positive case and who had some contact with the positive case so both groups of students can be tested and monitored.

“We do a contact tracing process where a nurse speaks with the person who has the positive test and from that we determine folks who are in close contact, meaning that the person has said this person was around me for extended periods of time, more than 15 minutes, within six feet, with or without their mask off,” Dr. Smith said.

“The LA department of public health asks you not to overdo that group,” Dr. Smith said. “But because we’re a boarding school and we want to be cautious we also look at a broader group of people that might have been around them even just in their class or their advisory group and we also do a little bit more surveillance of that group in terms of their testing.”

Ms. Stephanie Baron, the Director of the Health Center, expanded on the specifics of contact tracing.

“There’s actually a form that we complete,” Ms. Baron said. “We look at the 48 hours prior either from the first onset of symptoms or 48 hours prior to the positive test, whichever is the case with that particular situation. We’ll have them take out their phone and look at their schedule going through the blocks because the thing with COVID is you can pass it in your presymptomatic phase. Then we reach out to those people who were identified as contacts.”

All students who had any contact, close or some, with the positive cases are being asked to mask, indoors and out, for five days and to get tested every day. They are also asked to monitor symptoms closely and be cautious when eating or unmasked in any other way around others.

Dr. Smith’s email about the third case also notified students that we will be having five “mask-up” days immediately following the announcement, meaning students must remain masked indoors and outdoors.

Despite the prudent protocols being taken to avoid community spread of the virus, there is still some heightened anxiety on campus.

“I’m kind of on the fence about the entire situation, with the dining hall opening up and the no masking outdoors,” said Sophia Poon (‘25), a boarding student. “If I do get sick, how will I manage? How will I deal with the financial stuff? Where am I going to go? I’m worried about coming into contact with someone [who tests positive], or my brother getting [COVID].”

Hank, however, has a different stance.

“Anxiety-wise I feel okay,” Hank said. “Because I’m vaccinated, I feel much safer.”

Dr. Smith, who spoke with many students after her emails were sent out, also felt that there were mixed reactions to the current situation but that most people were still feeling positive.

“I think most people are doing okay,” Dr. Smith said. “I heard from some people that they feel good about the protocols we have in place, that they feel good about the communication that we have. I think it’s only natural that there’s some worry also.”

One of the biggest fears students have is that Webb will close down again due to COVID. However, at the time, both Dr. Smith and Ms. Baron do not see that as a possibility.

“I really don’t think that [Webb closing down] is going to happen,” Ms. Baron said. “We’re in a much better place than we were a year ago and we have other things in place that would happen before that.”

Webb also already has the protocols and resources to isolate anyone with a positive COVID case or quarantine anyone exposed to a positive case.

To help quell some anxieties, the admin held an all-student and faculty meeting the morning of October 29th at 8:30 before C-block. Students were able to hear about Webb’s COVID protocols, learn how to best support the community, and ask any questions.

“I’m a little worried, but Ms. Bauman said it is going to be okay, so I’m going to trust her on that,”
said Yvette Shu (‘23), after the meeting. “I think it is a good thing we are going back to masking up because it is a really good way to make sure homecoming and prom will not be canceled.”

Despite recent developments, the campus is functioning normally with increased testing and masking vigilance, and there are no plans to place further restrictions on off-campus weekend runs or Tuesday dinner. All of the Halloween activities are also continuing as planned.

As of right now, Webb does not have any COVID cases spreading around campus, and the health center has a plan in place for how to deal with any cases should they arise. As demonstrated by the recent bees-in-the-library situation, we can be sure that Webb will always prioritize the safety and well-being of its students.