Upper school COVID-19 FAQ: Learning format, case numbers and contact tracing


Esha Gohil

According to the Harker COVID-19 Data Dashboard, 19 students tested positive for COVID-19 from Jan. 2 to Jan. 8. As of yesterday, the upper school is not planning on implementing remote learning for any groups or grades on campus.

by Lucy Ge, Co-Managing Editor

This article has been updated on Jan. 16, 2022, to reflect current COVID-19 case numbers from the Harker COVID-19 Data Dashboard.

1. How many students and faculty have tested positive for COVID-19 at the upper school?

According to the Harker COVID-19 Data Dashboard, nine students tested positive from Jan. 9 to Jan. 15, and 19 students tested positive from Jan. 2 to Jan. 8. 11 staff members have tested positive so far in January. 

49 upper school students and 16 upper school staff members have tested positive since August, according to student COVID-19 cases data updated Jan. 15 and staff COVID-19 cases data updated Jan. 14.

2. Is the upper school planning on implementing remote learning for any groups or grades any time soon?

No, according to Head of School Brian Yager as of yesterday.

3. For what reasons will the upper school consider remote learning?

According to an email sent out to all upper school parents and faculty by Yager on Jan. 3, some classes or grades may need to temporarily transition to remote learning if there is a shortage of staff or teachers quarantining due to COVID-19. The upper school will also return to remote learning if the county requires it, and the upper school aims to allow for an on-site option for Zoom classes in case of remote learning. 

When asked about whether the upper school will consider remote learning in the case of overwhelming community input, Yager noted that the school made a clear commitment to in-person learning for this school year. 

“Even if there’s a groundswell of desire to go remote, we made the commitment to everybody else,” Yager said. “And so it would get tricky if there was a lot, a lot of people who wanted to be remote, we’d want to listen to the feedback, but ultimately, it’d be hard to make that decision voluntarily, given the commitment we’ve made.”

4. How does upper school contact tracing work?

When a student tests positive, the upper school uses seating charts, sports team rosters and any information provided by the student to determine who is considered a close contact, according to Olson.

The time frame for determining close contacts starts two days before onset of symptoms (or a positive COVID-19 test, if the individual who tests positive is asymptomatic). A student is considered a close contact if they were within six feet for more than 15 minutes of an individual who tests positive within the time frame.

5. When can a student return to in-person classes after testing positive?

In accordance with recently updated Santa Clara County guidance, students who test positive need to isolate for at least five days, not including the day of testing positive or onset of symptoms. After five days of isolation, they may return to school only if their symptoms are gone or resolving and they test negative on a COVID-19 antigen test. 

Once an upper school student isolates for ten days, they are allowed to return to school without testing negative. Most people are no longer contagious 10 days after onset of symptoms, according to Harvard Health Publishing of Harvard Medical School.

6. After an individual contracts COVID-19, can they still test positive after 10 days even when they’re no longer contagious? 

Yes. According to MIT Medical’s website, people infected with COVID-19 are likely to continue testing positive after the end of the contagious period. This is due to non-dangerous “viral remnants” of COVID-19 that remain in the body. 

7. Who can be tested for COVID-19, and how many tests does the upper school have?

According to Olson, testing is available to all students, faculty and staff at any time — if tests are running low, groups like close contacts are given priority for testing, but shortages are “usually not a problem.”

The upper school currently has a “good supply” of tests, according to Olson. The school has unlimited access to polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, which detect for COVID-19 genetic material, from Inspire Diagnostics. Rapid antigen tests are stored at the lower school and are distributed to campuses as needed. The PCR tests usually return results about 24-48 hours after testing while the rapid antigen tests take 15 minutes.

8. Have other Bay Area schools returned to remote learning?

Menlo High School moved to remote learning for the week of Jan. 3, according to Menlo’s website. Palo Alto High School has so far remained in-person. As of Jan. 7, Fremont Union High School District has continued in-person instruction. Milpitas Unified School District reversed last Thursday’s decision to return to remote learning until Jan. 18, a reversal that came a day after Santa Clara County called for the continuation of in-person instruction in a video statement last Friday.

9. For how long will class and school meetings take place remotely?

Class and school meetings will take place over Zoom for an indefinite amount of time until further notice, according to upper school senior class dean and English teacher Christopher Hurshman. Meetings are being held virtually in an effort to avoid large gatherings of community members in one place.

10. What does “mild” mean when describing COVID-19 cases?

According to the National Institute of Health, “mild” refers to cases of COVID-19 that display typical symptoms such as fever, cough, loss of smell, nausea and sore throat, but not difficulty breathing or “abnormal chest imaging.” Moderate and severe cases of COVID-19 both involve difficulty breathing.

11. Who is eligible to receive a booster shot?

Individuals 12 years of age or older are eligible to receive their booster shot five months after their second Pfizer or Moderna dose or two months after their one Johnson & Johnson dose, according to Santa Clara County Public Health’s website. To sign up for a booster shot, visit vax.sccgov.org.

Additional reporting by Irene Yuan and Sally Zhu.