Breaking News: Webb experiences a surge of COVID-19 cases after students return from winter break


Bianca Arteaga

As day students returned to campus on Tuesday, January 4th, they waited inside their vehicles at the gym parking lot to be tested. The line was very long as each student had to wait for 15 minutes for the test result. Only students with negative test results were allowed on campus. Nevertheless, for the next three days, Webb still experienced an increase of COVID-19 cases, with seven students who tested positive on Friday.

The gym parking lot was crowded with cars on the evening of January 3rd as boarders gradually returned to campus. As cars slowly moved down the line in the dark, health center staff opened one test kit after another, and students anxiously awaited inside their cars for COVID-19 results. The next morning, the same drill continued as day students arrived.

As people returned from the winter holidays, a new wave of the Omicron variant caused a drastic spike of COVID-19 cases at a national and state level. Despite America’s 62 percent fully vaccinated population, nationwide new cases have reached a record high of 313,061 as of January 9, 2022. In L.A. county, the daily positive cases rose from around 1,800 in mid-December to a shocking number of 45,553 on January 9th, 2022. This concerning surge directly impacted the Claremont local community and Webb, as some Webb students already tested positive or showed symptoms during break and had to remain in isolation.

With a number of students and staff under quarantine and isolation, Webb classrooms have become quieter, and students who could not come to school participate on Zoom. The administration expected this increase in positive cases among the Webb community.

“We were anticipating to have a ‘rolling set’ of students who are going to be either positive or [in quarantine] because they were close contacts and not fully vaccinated or boosted,” said Melanie Bauman, Director of Counseling and Health Education.

Fortunately, the symptoms of the Omicron variant are much less severe than those of the original virus. Everyone who tested positive has had mild or no symptoms. However, the virus is also spreading at a rapid pace, as more and more Webb members tested positive. On Friday, January 7th, seven students tested positive, according to an email sent by Theresa Smith, Associate Head of Schools.

To control the increase of positive COVID-19 cases, Webb responded quickly and implemented new guidelines to ensure the health and safety of the community.

“We are now rolling into a new stage,” Ms. Bauman said. “We now have a number of people who are going to be or currently eligible for boosters, so we are in a critical stage right now until everyone is boosted again and that brings our community back to herd immunity.”

As a response to increased COVID-19 cases among the student body and the increased transmissibility of the Omicron variant, Webb has changed its testing schedule to make sure each community member tests twice a week. People identified as close contacts also test more frequently and have to quarantine for five days if they are not fully vaccinated.

At the same time, the school has also temporarily suspended off-campus weekend programming, overnight passes, and sports games until January 16th. At the same time, masking and distancing requirements continue, especially in sports and other afternoon activities.

“We are trying to ‘thread that needle’ between having a life here and getting to do the things that give us joy, and also making sure that we have some safety while doing that,” Ms. Bauman said.

Despite the current hybrid model—with some students on Zoom and most in-person—Webb is committed to not closing down as a school. Webb would only close down if the county requires that it closes down and if there is unmitigated county-wide spread that is overloading the hospitals. As of right now, the possibility is still low.

However, there is still a possibility of returning to online learning given the current situation. According to the health center, it is about a six-week window where the surge is happening. Based on the current model, there will be a peak around the second week of February.

“We know that we are probably going to see more people online,” Ms. Bauman said. “There might be a point that we might have to temporarily be online, meaning boarding students might have to be in their dorm and day students would be at home.”

As Webb continues to monitor the spread, it has planned for all kinds of possibilities and has a plan for all contingencies.