COVID-19 protocols relax with hope of a normal year

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Designed by Jacob Bochmann

After a year of strict protocols, OHS returns with hopes of a normal year.

Preston Meier, Writer

“Back to school” is a phrase that most students hate to hear. This year, however, there is optimism about coming back to school and getting to do things that were not allowed last year. Normalcy is something that everyone has been looking forward to. With the school year underway, everyone in the building has been able to experience a normal classroom, but with a rise in COVID-19 cases, this could change. 

Last year, protocols were constantly changing. When school first started in Sept. 2020, the restrictions were at their highest. Masks were to be worn at all times besides lunch, six feet distance between students was a must and students were forced to quarantine when in close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19. In the spring of 2020, the Owatonna Public Schools District felt the hybrid learning model was no longer needed. To be able to fit everyone back in the school, the social distancing protocol was changed to three feet, but masks and contact tracing were still in place. With the progress that was made in stopping the spread, the start of the 2021-2022 school year has had some normalcy to it. 

This year, it has been determined that it is safe to allow OHS students to come back to school without as many restrictions. The biggest change has been that masks are no longer required, but are encouraged. Also, there is no longer a mandatory quarantine for students in close contact with someone who tests positive for COVID-19. Instead, it is all symptom based. Students will still receive a close contact notice, but it is not mandatory for students to partake in. OHS Nurse Ms. Anna Durst said, “If a student is identified as COVID positive, a letter goes home to families in that classroom. The recommendation is that they stay home for 14 days. The thing that we feel strongly about is that people who are sick with symptoms, stay home and get a COVID test.” Although the protocols are not as strict this year, it does not mean that COVID-19 is being taken lightly in the building. 

If a student is identified as COVID positive, a letter goes home to families in that classroom. The recommendation is that they stay home for 14 days. The thing that we feel strongly about is that people who are sick with symptoms, stay home and get a COVID test.”

— Ms. Anna Durst

One thing that has stayed consistent from last to this year is the sanitization. The custodial staff at OHS makes sure all solid surfaces are cleaned everyday and the spaces where a student was COVID-19 positive are intentionally cleaned to kill the virus. Head Custodian Mr. JJ Ayers said, “I have the night shift that does all the cleaning. For sanitizing, we use a disinfectant and wipe all the hard tops like desks, tables, chairs, etc. and this happens everyday.” The difference in sanitization this year is that the staff no longer has to wipe down the desks in between periods, but it is still important to keep everything in the school as clean as possible to stop the spread of COVID-19 and keep students healthy. 

Currently, OHS has been doing a good job keeping students healthy; the number of COVID-19 cases in the school are fluctuating between 15 and 24 confirmed cases. If this number were to rise to an unsafe level, there would be different protocols implemented to bring the number back down. OHS Principal Mr. Kory Kath said, “Five percent for us is a significant number and the Steele County Public Health. Having five percent of your population with COVID shows you’ve got a concern on your hand.” That five percent number in the school would be around 75 confirmed cases. If OHS were to reach this number, things like masking and other protocols would return to stop the spread. If the number continues to increase from the five percent, OHS could return to a hybrid or full distance learning model. The staff of OHS hopes changes will not be needed, but these decisions will be handled by the Owatonna School Board for Owatonna Public Schools K-12.