Winter Break Extended for Snow Day; 73 in Community Test Positive

Community members wait in line for COVID testing on Friday, Dec. 31. Photo by Olivia Brown. 

At least 73 community members tested positive for COVID-19 since Dec. 31, according to an update to GDS’ COVID dashboard on the morning of Jan. 9. Winter break was extended for a snow day on Jan. 4, leaving some students and teachers apprehensive about GDS’ COVID response and others confident in the scheduled return to school. 

22 cases were detected during GDS’ on-campus COVID testing sessions on Dec. 31 and Jan. 3. Since Jan. 3, 37 community members have tested positive for COVID off campus, and 14, including five high school students, tested positive through GDS’ on-campus testing between Jan. 5 and Jan. 7, according to the dashboard. 

GDS announced that school would remain closed on Jan. 4 because of the recent snow storm in the D.C. region. The school’s COVID dashboard says that approximately ten percent of the community tested positive for the coronavirus over winter break, and that administrators were waiting on the results of 11 on-campus tests. School is set to resume in person on Jan. 5. 

Head of School Russell Shaw had canceled classes for Jan. 3 to allow more time for testing, noting the scarcity of tests caused by a regional surge in COVID cases. Shaw did not reply to an emailed request for an interview.

Results from the Dec. 31 tests should have been available the morning of Jan. 2, Director of Strategic Programs Ahuja told the Bit. But early in the afternoon of Jan. 3, CIAN Diagnostics, the testing company working with GDS, had yet to report to the school a “small” number of results, according to Ahuja. She declined to say exactly how many. 

The results from the testing session on Jan. 3 were also unavailable at that time. 

The question of whether those delays would force GDS to extend winter break by another day vanished at about 4 p.m., when a text message to parents and faculty announced that school would remain closed on Jan. 4 because of the recent snow storm in the D.C. area. “Stay Safe and Enjoy the Snow!” the message said.

Delois Black, who works for CIAN, said in an interview during the Dec. 31 testing clinic at GDS that her work has “been really crazy” and busy since the Omicron variant has gained traction in the U.S. 

In his Dec. 30 email announcing the cancellation for Jan. 3, Shaw also outlined new COVID guidelines, including encouraging community members to get booster shots and wear KN95 or KF94 masks.

English teacher Nina Prytula said teachers were told that the school would offer especially protective masks, such as KN95s and KF94s, but have not been told when they will be available.

Junior Zaira Chowdhury said in an interview that she was disappointed in the school’s approach to communication about COVID cases, noting that GDS has not publicized its public virus dashboard to students.

Chowdhury sent Shaw a lengthy email on the morning of Jan. 3 sharing her concerns about GDS’ notifications following COVID infections and a suggestion that school be run virtually for the first week of school after winter break. In response, Shaw wrote that the decision to return to school is complex and that administrators are actively monitoring the situation. 

As part of the school’s newly introduced virus procedures, athletes are required to get tested weekly, along with unvaccinated and partially vaccinated community members and students in eighth grade and lower. All other students are required to test every other week but may choose to do so every week. And Athletic Director David Gilespie announced on Jan. 3 that student athletes now must wear masks at all times, except when drinking.

Teachers interviewed by the Bit on Jan. 3 had varying comfort levels about returning to school. Prytula and photography teacher Francesca Scott said they feel comfortable returning to the classroom. “The administration is on top of it,” Scott said.

However, history teacher Ricardo Carmona said he was concerned about contracting COVID, especially given his baby child and students’ negligence with COVID precautions before winter break.

Administrators have recently been adamant about virtual school’s detrimental effects on students’ mental health and their preference for continuing in-person learning. 

“I don’t think I could do virtual school again,” senior Felicia Paul said.

This story has been updated since its initial publication.