Uncertain but hopeful: the future of KO and vaccinations

Investigative

On March 9, 2021, KO hosted an on-campus vaccine clinic. On April 5, vaccines were made available to all people age 16 and up. On May 10, the Pfizer vaccine was expanded to ages 12 and up. By May 21, half of Connecticut residents had become fully vaccinated. Little by little, the tide of the pandemic appears at last to be turning. These developments prompt the question: What sort of “normal” will rising vaccination rates allow for during the upcoming school year?

During the on-campus March vaccination clinic, the Johnson and Johnson vaccine was made available to all faculty, and the majority of them received the vaccine. The school had the potential to receive any of the three vaccines: Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson and Johnson, and did not know what vaccine they would receive until the day of. In addition to school Nurse Beth Scully, the local health administration sent out volunteers to help with the organization process; administration of the vaccines was carried out by a group of non-public school nurses. 

While the majority of faculty and staff have been vaccinated, it has not had an immediate effect on the school’s health and safety protocols, which have largely remained constant throughout the school year. A notable yet small exception came through the lifting of the requirement to sanitize desks between every class as a result of modified recommendations regarding the possibility of surface transmissions from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). So far, there have been no changes in the protocols in direct response to the rising vaccination rates of students and faculty.

“Theoretically, the vaccine should impact the guidelines,” Head of School Tom Dillow said. “But at present, given the fact that we’re still seeing a rise in cases and particularly with the new strain, it doesn’t change our guidelines significantly or at all right now.”

As a result of the recent expansion of the Pfizer vaccine to ages 12 and up, all students in the Upper School, as well as most of those in the Middle School—with the exception of some students in Upper Prep—are now eligible to be vaccinated. As would be expected, getting vaccinated is highly encouraged by KO. “The more individuals that get vaccinated, that makes us a more safer community, and it’s always a personal choice, but always highly encouraged just to protect all of us,” Nurse Scully said. While the school encourages students to become vaccinated, there is currently no mandate for eligible students to be vaccinated, nor does the school hope to have to institute one. “Our hope is that we would not need to mandate,” Mr. Dillow said. “But as a private institution, we could, and if that was necessary for us to have in-person classes or return to normal, it would be something we would have to carefully consider, but right now we are not planning on mandating because we don’t believe that we will actually need it.”

Vaccinations appear to be prevalent among the KO population, with many eligible students becoming vaccinated. “My impression is that people are enthusiastic about becoming vaccinated and understand and recognize that this vaccine is the surest way for us to defeat this virus and return to normal,” Mr. Dillow said. 

Even as vaccinations increase among the KO population, the importance of mask-wearing and following school health and safety protocols continues to be emphasized. “Masks are something that is really important for us,” Dean of Students Krista Sahrbeck said. “Wearing them below the nose is something that we just don’t have the flexibility to do right now.” 

At present, it is difficult to predict what the future will look like. Although much of the school is able to be vaccinated, there is still much uncertainty; therefore, it is hard to make a concrete plan for next year.

 “I am sure next year is going to probably still look very similar to what we are this year,” Nurse Scully said. “It’s all going to depend on how vaccines are rolled out. It’s going to depend on the Department of Public Health, the CDC, and all their guidelines and requirements that get rolled out.”

Mr. Dillow agrees. “I would imagine that we’re likely returning with some of these protocols in place if not the same to start off the school year,” he said. “But the most likely scenario, I believe, would be that there would be a reduction in those protocols, assuming we were reaching herd immunity and that we have the population vaccinated and that this virus has come under control.”

There is a consensus among the community that it is expected that there will be some changes in protocols next year. “I’m hopeful that within the next school year there can be some changes,” Ms. Sahrbeck said. “I don’t think going back to normal will exist. I think there will be a new normal.”

In terms of athletics, the goal is that there can be some changes in policy. “Next fall, we are hoping that in some ways we are going to be able to loosen our procedures and protocols a little bit,” Director of Athletics Josh Balabuch said. “I would imagine that we are going to be on the safe side, wearing masks and such at the beginning of the year.”  It appears that the sports seasons will be more normal next year, with every private school in NEPSAC scheduling normal 2021-2022 seasons. 

As has been throughout the pandemic, much of the future is uncertain. However, one thing is for sure: the KO community will continue to adapt and persevere through all that is thrown its way.