By: A. W. Taylor
The beginning of 2022 has seen a spike in COVID-19 cases due to the Omicron variant of the virus. While this spike is decreasing, it has caused some students at the Baltimore School for the Arts to feel unsafe while in the building.
“With the new variants that have developed over time, I feel like we might need more things to be added to make things safer,” said Junior Dylan Pritzlaff.
In hopes to combat the virus, the school issued guidelines outlining new locations for students to eat lunch; this came after concerns that the cafeteria was overcrowded. Additionally, during the spike, the school sent out two community letters reporting the number of individuals who test positive for the virus.
After these efforts, however, there are still some students who feel uneasy.
“When you’re in a school with 400 other people, adding staff, and being in these pretty small classrooms and talking to each other, not to mention lunchrooms and stuff, it’s a very, very good environment for transmission to happen,” said Junior Tristan Stefanović.
Stefanović is a youth ambassador for VALUE Baltimore, an organization affiliated with the Baltimore City Health Department that focuses on informing people about the COVID-19 vaccine.
Stefanović believes that splitting up lunch periods is a step in the right direction. However, he also believes “It’s a step that the administration thinks is a do one thing, solve all problems kind of thing. But, it’s only [solving] part of the problem.”
He explains, “We have all these new staff in the building who can be helping with this [COVID-19 policy enforcement], from independent companies, that can be saying ‘Hey, you’re done eating, why don’t you pull your mask up.’”
Stefanović adds, “At the beginning of the year, for about two weeks, we had QR codes on the lunch tables that you scanned and they would go to a google form that you filled out. Then, after two weeks, the QR codes stopped working and nothing has happened since.”
Freshman Toni Wells believes that splitting up lunch periods is “very helpful”. “Even though I’m still in the cafeteria, I feel like it’s effective because there are less people there,” she explains.
Another initiative the school has taken in order to prevent the spread of the virus is mask breaks. Mask breaks are small breaks of time during the day where students can safely take off their masks.
“We’re not getting enough mask breaks,” Stefanović said. “There’s no guidelines on mask breaks. At least for me, all the times I’ve had them it’s because we’ve had a little extra time in our classes and we’ve practically had to beg our teachers to take us out.”
The administration outlined guidelines for staff members, but the implementation of those guidelines have varied. Junior Katherine Orellana said that Visual Artists have gotten longer mask breaks. She explained, “We got to go to the park for about 15 minutes.”
Wells, as a film student, gets 5 minute mask breaks. “I, personally, don’t take off my mask during mask breaks because I don’t really have a problem wearing masks,” Wells said. “But, I do know other people that I talk to do wish that there were more mask breaks and more chances to breathe.”
Usually, mask breaks occur outside, so the winter weather may impact their frequency.
Because COVID-19 is an ongoing issue, the guidelines that are in place are subject to change. “I just want to make sure everyone’s protected, in their own way,” Pritzlaff concludes.
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