No. Returning fully in-person is a nice idea, but unrealistic

Jula Utzschneider, Opinion Editor

Over the past year, many people—teachers, students and parents—have wondered when school will be completely normal. Since then, a big question has come up for debate: will we ever go full in-person again? In recent weeks, with the decision made to go back five days a week, it certainly seems like we will. But I believe the more important question is, should we?

There are definitely upsides to returning to school five days a week, like seeing friends you might not have seen in person since school closed last year. But is this really an upside? I understand that some people are upset about missing the “social” aspect of highschool, like parties and seeing friends. But, the virus will go away much faster if everyone follows the guidelines and stays away from one another, which won’t happen at a school with over 1400 students (when it is often hard to follow social distancing). 

Another issue in schools is symptom screening. According to the CDC, a recent study found that symptom screening failed to identify nearly half of all pediatric patients with COVID, and 40% of those with COVID symptoms did not have the virus. So, while symptom screening is important, it is nearly impossible to detect all, or even half, of COVID-positive children.

Moreover, the highest number of cases in Massachusetts in the last two weeks are from people ages 0-19, with over 5,000 new cases. And this could be because of schools choosing to return full in-person. The reason cases were so low before is because kids were not in school. 

Since before Christmas break, the district has offered free COVID testing, and while it certainly looks promising, even it has its downsides. It is a good idea in theory, but if someone is COVID-positive (and is asymptomatic), by the time they get their results back they could have transmitted it to many other students and teachers without even realizing it. Based on the process of pooled testing, it is also possible for a positive COVID sample to go undetected (thus showing up as negative).

In addition to this, if you’re a COVID-19 carrier, you may wear your mask all day only to spread the disease when you take it off to eat lunch. While, yes, the school is adding another lunch and we can eat outside, but how does that make sense? I constantly see students walking up to others at lunch without masks on, not socially distanced and when we go full in-person there will only be more people who do this and help spread the virus.

Not to mention, hallways and stairwells went back to two-directional last week (in addition to less passing time), which in my opinion, seems like the opposite of what should be done in preparation for the entire school being in the same building. While you are supposed to keep to one side, this is basically impossible for teachers to enforce when hundreds of students are walking at the same time. 

Furthermore, it is going to be extremely hard for students to adjust back to five days of school a week. I for one feel that waking up at 6:00 a.m. (and sometimes earlier) every day seems almost impossible, and will definitely cause sleep deprivation among students, who have gotten used to going to bed and waking up later. And if schools open and many people get the virus, they will probably close again, and we will all have to readjust all over again.

We can all agree that schools need to reopen at some point to make things as “normal” as possible. But should this really be happening now? And while I understand the intent, there are some things that shouldn’t be normal right now, in the middle of a pandemic.