The State of COVID at Stuy

Issue 2, Volume 113

By Theo Sassano 

When New York City schools first shut down at the dawn of the COVID-19 pandemic, most did not imagine they would remain that way for a year and a half. When schools fully reopened in 2021 with ample precautions, a return to normalcy seemed far away—yet, a year later, Stuyvesant has reached an in-between. The DOE changed school health regulations by removing the daily health screening requirement and in-school PCR testing, and has decreased test kit distribution from eight to four per month. Some Stuyvesant students’ attitudes toward COVID have changed because of these relaxed health protocols.

For students like senior Talia Hsia, attending school in September 2022 has felt safer than it has been in a few years. “Last year, [COVID] was kind of a big thing for me because we were just emerging out of quarantine and in-person school was really tentative,” she said. “COVID isn’t really at the same level as it was a year ago. I think that the world cannot stay in the same state that it was in at the beginning of the pandemic, especially now that it’s more on an epidemic level.”

On the other hand, junior Kohl Shepherd feels that COVID should not be treated as any less than it was last year. “My current attitude regarding COVID is that it is not over, and I will do everything in my power to not get the virus,” he said. “[I] and everyone in my immediate family have managed to avoid getting COVID through masking and being overall very careful, and I intend to keep it that way.” While the severity of the virus itself has generally decreased from the start of the pandemic, Shepherd acknowledges that the virus is still not fully understood and warrants caution. “COVID, if I did get it, would not kill me, but there are long-term effects of the virus that we don’t know much about, stuff like brain and lung damage, and that’s scary,” he explained.

The debate over COVID’s intensity is most visibly demonstrated in mask-wearing trends, as an increasing number of students have begun to test the waters of masklessness. Junior Yarza Aung, who currently wears a mask to school, is experimenting with the idea of going maskless. “Honestly, I started school this year wearing a mask as a precaution, but I don’t feel like I need it now,” he explained. “COVID is no longer as rampant as it once was, and I feel a lot safer at school in terms of a possible infection spread.”

While health concerns over COVID lessen, the question of “to mask or not to mask” has started to hinge on the social implications. Hsia, for instance, continues to carry a mask on her out of regard for those she interacts with in the building. “Around people who I know are more comfortable when people do wear masks, I’ll wear masks around them,” she said. “At this point, whether or not I wear a mask is determined much more by social things and whether or not people are comfortable with me wearing one.”

Aung also finds that others’ masking preferences have influenced his own. “Seeing others without masks makes me feel more comfortable with the idea of not wearing one,” he explained. “I definitely wouldn’t want to be the odd one out if everyone else at school had still chosen to keep on their mask.”

The opposite is true for Shepherd, who feels that the health-related decision outweighs any social factors. “If anything, my friends are less careful about COVID and masking than I am,” he said. “I believe that I would continue to wear a mask even if I were literally the only person in the school doing it.”

Freshman Arko Chakrabartiroy also finds few reasons not to wear a mask with COVID in the air. “Wearing a mask helps protect myself, along with my family, friends, teachers, and anyone else I come into contact with,” he said. “Wearing masks is especially important for the vulnerable members of our community, and we owe it to them to continue to practice masking and other safe behavior.”

While the mask debate rages on, students agree that the lack of the DOE health screening has been a relief. “In theory, it catches COVID before someone enters the school building, which is helpful, but in practice, it doesn’t really do much,” Shepherd said. “I think that the annoyance of having to fill it out and show it to the school every morning outweighed the few cases where it actually stopped people [from] entering the building.”

As it is still early in the school year, students’ opinions about COVID are subject to change. The topic is still up in the air: while many feel it is time to move past COVID, others believe it is better to be safe than sorry. A noticeable divide has formed amidst this uncertainty, and only time will tell whether it will clear up or devolve into further complexity.