As we complete what I hope has been an enjoyable and relaxing holiday season, we are excited to begin the second semester in-person on Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022. I am writing to provide some updates to our COVID-related policies as we begin to prepare for a return to school. While I remain grateful for the generally positive first semester we experienced at Darlington, we continue to take the spread of COVID-19 seriously and evaluate our own policies in relation to factors including CDC guidance and community spread.
The Omicron variant has reminded us that we must remain diligent as cases around the world and locally increase rapidly and are expected to continue to rise. As the CDC reminds us, the best tools for helping mitigate the current outbreak are vaccines, face coverings and testing. I am confident that by following what has now become familiar preventative measures, our Darlington Community will have another positive and safe semester of learning together here on campus. I continue to appreciate everyone who helps make this happen. As in the past, we will continue to monitor the current outbreak and update our policies as appropriate.
Our goal is to have in-person, on-campus learning for the entirety of the school year, and this is a necessary step in our effort to do so.
While Darlington has a generally high rate of vaccination in our school community, we encourage anyone who has not received a vaccination or a booster (as able) to get one. Beyond helping prevent the spread of COVID-19, vaccinations remain the best tool for preventing the more serious symptoms of COVID-19 for those that contract it. We recognize that Omicron is another highly-contagious variant and that completely preventing cases on campus is not possible. Therefore, mitigating its effects using vaccinations is a robust protective measure. Keep in mind also that non-U.S. citizens traveling back from their homes must show proof of full vaccination.
Beginning Monday, Jan. 3, 2022, Darlington School will require all students, employees and guests on campus to wear a face covering while indoors. This policy is in place regardless of vaccination status as Omicron has increased the rate of breakthrough cases. This policy also includes school-related activities off campus, such as on school buses and during indoor activities of field trips. The primary exceptions to this policy will be while eating meals seated in dining areas and for athletes during sports practices and events. In terms of extracurricular activities, we will continue to follow Georgia High School Athletic Association guidelines.
Testing for COVID-19 prior to the start of the semester will not be required. In general, testing will be recommended only for individuals experiencing symptoms or who have had direct exposure with someone confirmed positive for COVID-19. Students requiring admission to the Health Center and whose condition requires a diagnosis for more specific treatment purposes may be tested for COVID-19, flu, strep, etc. and/or sent to see a physician for necessary testing and treatment. Those with mild cold symptoms will be treated for those symptoms and may not be tested automatically.
QUARANTINE AND ISOLATION
On Dec. 27, the CDC formally updated its guidance for isolation of individuals positive for COVID-19 and quarantining of close contacts. Darlington is aligning its policies with this new guidance and adopting a five-day isolation period for all individuals positive for COVID-19, provided their symptoms have resolved (no fever for 24 hours) by that point and maintain strict mask-wearing on campus for an additional five days. Individuals who have been directly exposed to someone with COVID-19 but are fully vaccinated and boosted if able (see CDC guidance) do not need to quarantine as long as they are vigilant about mask wearing and show no symptoms, but should test on day five, if possible. Unvaccinated individuals who have experienced a direct exposure should quarantine at home for five days and test if symptoms develop.
Our previous protocols to identify or quarantine (if unvaccinated) every close contact of a COVID-positive student is not sustainable. While we have found our previous policy to be a positive mitigation strategy, the transmissibility of Omicron does not make this policy realistic. Therefore, while we will still notify the community of positive cases, we will no longer be contact tracing at school.
We do not know what may come next in terms of the pandemic, so we remain thoughtful and ready. Please have conversations with your students emphasizing the importance of these procedures in keeping our community safe and together, particularly in the proper and diligent wearing of face coverings when around others. Our commitment to in-person learning is great but requires the support of the full community during these uncertain times.
For now, we are confident that our commitment to wearing face coverings when around others, staying home when sick, testing for COVID-19 when necessary, sustaining good hygiene and other mitigation strategies, limiting exposure outside of school, and maintaining high vaccination rates will allow us to continue to have a successful school year.
If your child has a medical exemption from wearing a face covering or you have questions about learning on campus, please contact your child’s division director. Thank you for your continued partnership in your child’s educational journey. I am inspired by the energy, enthusiasm and fortitude that our students display on a daily basis.
Forward Ever be our Watchword!
Head of School