Mask Update


Credit: Courtesy of Hackley School

This graph shows the results of pool testing throughout this (2021-2022) academic school year. Hackley’s positive cases have remained low with the exception of a few weeks.

Since the beginning of COVID-19 masks have made their place on grocery lists and become an accessory to one’s everyday outfit. Students have been put in a difficult situation, panting as they walk up stairs, not being able to connect to their peers through smiles, and constantly fighting a feeling of suffocation during classes. 

On March 2, 2022, Governor Kathy Hochul lifted the mask mandate for schools in the state of New York. With this news, Hackley has adopted a mask optional policy where students are encouraged to wear a mask if identified as a close contact.

Having to wear a mask while simultaneously connecting with peers was difficult for all students. The Class of 2024 was especially impacted by this as they started their high school career with this significant obstacle. On the topic of assimilating, Eliza Podvalny ‘24 said, “It was really awkward because you had to keep six feet of distance between you and your peers and it was hard to listen to people.” She said that as someone coming into a new school, “there were all these barriers that prevented you from effectively communicating and connecting with not only your classmates but also your teachers because it was not as natural to make small talk with people.” Eliza said that having masks added an additional obstacle as “you could not see how your peers and teachers are feeling.” People could not convey their confusion about a math topic or joy upon hearing something funny in class. Masks made it very difficult to connect with people on a deeper level. 

The lunch situation last year made it hard for students to find people to sit with. Having only two to four people at a table put high schoolers in the awkward situation of choosing who to sit with and having to turn people away due to the limit. It puts severe restrictions and pressures on friendships. Eliza Podvalny said, “it is a relief having the lunch table restrictions go away because I can sit with all my friends instead of having to worry about hurting someone’s feelings.” Now, students are free to sit with as many friends as they wish which encourages building new friendships and connections with new students. 

Many students are extremely content with masks going away. Ava Lattimore ‘23 expressed her happiness, “Almost everyone is vaccinated and I like being able to see people’s faces again.” She spoke about her choice of not wearing a mask as well. Ava said, “At first, I chose to wear a mask, mostly because I was used to having something on my face all the time, but now I don’t wear one. I am fully vaccinated, and everyone I interact with on a daily basis is too. If I ever came into close contact with someone who tested positive, of course, I would wear a mask again, but right now, I feel safe without one. ”

March 31, 2022, was the last day of pool testing at Hackley. The reasoning behind this decision according to Mr. Wirtz is that “we are all learning to adjust from a pandemic to an endemic response.” In this particular pool test round, 24 positive results and 3 inconclusive results were identified, spanning from 1st to 12th grade.

Ava Lattimore said, “I don’t love that testing is stopping along with masks. I understand that testing is expensive, but I think we should continue doing it for just a few more weeks. I think getting rid of both roughly around the same time may be too much too soon.” 

The school is moving to pass on the responsibility of testing to the students through rapid antigen home tests. Students are to test at home and report a positive result to the school. This type of testing is much more difficult to keep track of given that students may forget to test themselves every week. 

On April 6, 2022, the community was hit by a large number of positive COVID cases. This resulted in short-term changes to COVID protocols. Students are now required to wear masks indoors until at least the week of the 18th and to stay home if they feel any symptoms of the illness. Teachers are trying their best to accommodate this difficult period by holding zoom classes. 

Once Hackley powers through this rough patch, with a large percentage of the community vaccinated and with students ready to take on the responsibility of self-testing, Hackley school is ready to move forward toward a higher level of normalcy.