COVID-19 cases surge as the 2022-2023 school year begins


Nancy Lin ('23)

VWS students line up in front of “Ye Olde Testing Centre” to get COVID tested after Thursday chapel. Per new safety measures, all students must get tested at least twice a week during their free blocks and can grab a tasty Hi-Chew on their way out. “We’ve been doing this since last year, so it’s almost like a schedule I have in my mind to get tested every week,” Zaneta Yeung (‘25) said. The new testing schedule is just one of the many new guidelines put in place to ensure the safety of the Webb community.

After a bizarre year of rigorous COVID-19 restrictions and altered school traditions, the Webb community began 2022-2023 in hopes of a year of normalcy. With a brand-new class of freshmen eager to explore the school and a jaded class of seniors hoping to recover lost customs, the new year started off with a bang… of COVID-19 cases.  

In an email sent to the Webb community on September 4th, Melanie Bauman, Webb’s Director of Wellness, reported 42 COVID-19 cases among the student population in the week following August 29th. In response to this recent influx of cases, the Webb Health Advisory Board drew up a new set of protocols alongside the Los Angeles Department of Public Health’s guidelines to combat the spread on campus. 

New guidelines included enforcing active masking in all indoor spaces, suspending overnight school trips, and prohibiting dorm-to-dorm visitation and overnight guests. The health center has sought to ensure additional safety of the community by implementing a 5-day minimum for isolation and providing access to the new Omicron variant-specific booster shot for those eligible.  

These new protocols have been working, though, as the virus’s hold on the community appears to be waning.  

“We’re already seeing [the outbreak slowing down],” said Stephanie Baron, Webb’s Health Center Director. “When surges happen — from my experience — it’ll peak, and then it’s up and down, and then you start to see it really decrease. Part of that is a function of fewer susceptible people to infect. We are already starting to see it slow down.” 

Although the surge of cases seems to be losing steam, the sheer size of this outbreak within Webb’s student population has thrown a wrench into several start-of-year plans across all ends of the school. With infected students out of the classroom for up to ten days at a time, those students, along with their teachers, may have difficulty getting back on their feet as the school year continues on. 

“We knew that we are still not done with COVID, so [the new cases] were almost an expectation,” said Esteban Vasquez, world languages department faculty. “I think being able to be flexible and have communication one-on-one [with students] is important…If a student is [sick] with the unfortunate disease, they can always email us, and we will find a way to accommodate assignments, work around the schedule for them, but the communication has to come from the student as well.” 

Students who are out sick with the virus, along with missing their classes, have not been able to participate in many of Webb’s start-of-year traditions such as the Welcome Back Dance, Casino Night, and Theme Week. 

I feel disconnected from my friends — especially now, considering it’s theme week,” said Parker Tanyawong (‘24), a student who was in isolation. “I’m seeing all of my friends through social media getting to dress up and have fun. 

Students who have not been out sick are also experiencing an unorthodox beginning to their year. Larger community events have been modified due to this recent outbreak, with Webb traditions like Theme Night’s all-school after party being shifted once again to individual cast parties. Even with small alterations to these events, Ken Rosenfeld, Dean of Campus Life, assures us that the virus will not stand in the way of bringing the community together. 

“There are always going to be risks, because you know there are things out there that can happen,” said Mr. Rosenfeld. “There are colds, flus, and this, and that. COVID, obviously, is different than those other things, however the number one thing we must address is what the goals are for community events. Our decision to have Theme Night outside is actually not even COVID-related.” 

The athletic department, on the other hand, has seen much more direct changes to their plans. The WSC football team’s highly anticipated trip to Pebble Beach to face their rivals, Stevenson, was canceled in response to Webb’s high infection rate. The cross-country team has also seen the effects of the recent surge — its overnight trip to Avalon was cut short. 

“The fact that we are a boarding school in LA country is adding a lot of layers,” said Steve Wishek, Webb’s Athletics Director. “I do know that our goal is to minimize those disruptions as much as we can. We know that it’s had an impact on the football team and our cross-country team’s overnight trip to Avalon. The testing has ramped up and we’re asking spectators and anyone who’s not playing to mask-up. The goal is to play as much as we can play.”  

Although this influx of COVID-19 cases in the Webb community is slowing down now, its effects may persist through the end of the year with many major events at Webb being adjusted. How we, as a community, navigate and persevere through these changes is incredibly important. A community-wide commitment to following newly imposed safety guidelines will bring Webb students one step closer to that “normal” school year that they have wanted for the past few years.