Here’s how COVID-19 is affecting Lab students

School may be closed, travel is restricted, trips were cancelled


Source: Centers for Disease Control

The spread of COVID-19, caused by the virus rendered above, has had worldwide impact, causing quarantines, travel restrictions and economic instability. Lab and the University of Chicago have responded with caution, planning for a possible school closure and cancelling planned overseas trips.

Updated March 9 with information on Lab’s plans for a possible closure.

Updated March 5 to include information about Lab’s priority of keeping surfaces clean.

Originating in Wuhan, China, the coronavirus COVID-19 has impacted people all around the world and forced the University of Chicago and Laboratory Schools students, administration and faculty to respond. Impacts at Lab include postponed school trips and May Projects and even discussions about school closure. 


Planning begins for possible school closure

During a Labor-Management Committee meeting Feb. 25, participants agreed to put together a working group of faculty and administrators that would consider contingencies for school operations and expectations for students and faculty in case of school closure. Learning management systems would play a significant role if classes could not meet in person.

Charlie Abelmann, Laboratory Schools Director, said, “For middle school and high school, students have the technology to be able to connect through Schoology and to teachers, so it’s looking at the platforms that we already have and how we can use those platforms, and then, making decisions about what we would do for younger students.”  

Administrators and members of the Faculty Association met March 3 to continue the discussion and solidify plans. 

According to an email sent by Dr. Abelmann on March 7, students from nursery to fifth grade will use SeeSaw to communicate with teachers while parents will use Schoology. Tools including Google Hangouts may facilitate teaching during school closure. Assignments will continue starting the third day of school closure after a two-day transition. Families may seek access and assistance with technology and internet from Director of Innovation and Technology Brian Hewlett. Parents can find tutorials, tips and the Parent HelpDesk under the Parent webpage


Lab prioritizes keeping surfaces clean

According to an email sent by Director of Operations Joe Wachowski on March 5, more staff was added to the ABM cleaning program to keep surfaces including desktops, doorknobs and sink handles clean and disinfected. Every classroom from nursery to fifth grade has access to cleaning spray and paper towels, and classrooms will be provided with spray and wipes upon request. In addition, tissues have been placed throughout the schools, and signs have been placed to remind people about washing hands.


University takes precautions and imposes travel guidelines

The University of Chicago has also taken precautions and set guidelines against COVID-19. An email sent Jan. 24 from then-Provost Daniel Diermeier and Dean Kenneth Polonsky explained that the Student Health Service and University of Chicago Medicine began screening all patients for the coronavirus and asking whether they have recently traveled to Wuhan or are associated with anyone possibly infected with COVID-19. 

Most of the guidelines out there are to just do what people would do normally with things like a cold or flu”

— Dr. Maggie Collison

The university’s current outbound travel guidelines strongly discourage travel to any country with a Level 3 travel health notice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Currently, Level 3 countries include China, South Korea, Iran and Italy. The university return travel guidelines state that travelers returning from these countries should not attend school or work for two weeks. 

In addition to travel, the university has changed programs in countries with a high risk for COVID-19, set up an informational website, and cleaning staff are disinfecting surfaces more frequently according to a Feb. 28 email from Provost Ka Yee Lee. 


Student and faculty international travel canceled

Selected for the Eliad Scholarship Program, a French exchange financed by Lab, juniors Izzy Kaufman-Sites and Andrada Nicolae were scheduled to leave for La Rochelle March 1 and return March 28 until the trip was postponed on Feb. 28 due concerns of the coronavirus. 

U-High French teacher Catherine Collet-Jarard said, “The concern was that when they come back to the U.S., they might be confined for two weeks.”

According to Ms. Collet-Jarard, the students’ families made the decision to postpone the trip after learning about the risks and concerns. She added Lab can use the plane tickets within a year without penalty fees.

In addition to two weeks of school, the potential quarantine period would include the junior retreat scheduled for April 1-3.

“If we get quarantined in our houses, our parents would also have to be quarantined in our houses, which is too much of a sacrifice for us to go to France for four weeks,” Andrada said. 

Similarly, on March 4 the French exchange trip to La Martinique scheduled for March 14-28 was postponed. 

According to The New York Times coronavirus map, Italy has confirmed more than 3,000 cases. As a result, the RoboMed competition at the American School of Milan was postponed, and the trip for 12 selected members of Lab’s middle school robotics team originally scheduled to depart Feb. 26 and return March 3 was canceled on Feb. 23. 

According to middle school robotics team coach Jeremy Schwartz, parents will receive refunds, and similar to the Eliad Scholarship Program trip, Lab can use the plane tickets within a year without fees. 

In addition, two mid-March faculty trips to China were canceled. Ten teachers and administrators were scheduled to leave for China to learn about Chinese education and culture, and technology coordinator Louis Coronel and lower school assistant principal Uzma Panjwani prepared to present at a conference about design thinking and STEM education.

The coronavirus COVID-19 has also forced some seniors to change their May Projects. Senior Emily Zhang’s original proposal involved traveling to Changsha, China, to study how the relationship between people and technology differs between China and the United States. Although the original proposal deadline was Feb. 28, May project coordinator Mariah Bender granted Emily an extension for March 6. Her new proposal involves visiting gardens around Chicago and studying how artificial intelligence can recognize plants. 

As the president of Prom Committee and a member of the Graduation Committee, Emily said if she continued her original May Project, she would risk missing both events. 

“I think it’s just in my best interest to be as safe as possible and in the best interest of those around me,” Emily said. 


Chinatown neighborhood feels economic pinch

Joyce Ye, a waitress at the Chinatown restaurant Mala Temptation, estimated that they receive about 30-50% fewer customers compared to before the COVID-19 outbreak, and other businesses face a similar situation. 

“If people do come, I mean, they will wear a mask and stuff like that, and they will ask you ‘Do you have a hand sanitizer?’” Ms. Ye said. 

If people do come, I mean, they will wear a mask and stuff like that, and they will ask you ‘Do you have a hand sanitizer?’”

— Joyce Ye

Not only are customers not coming, businesses have taken precautions when receiving them.

A sign posted outside of the John C. Mui D.D.S. Family Dental Center in Chinatown Square Plaza on South Archer Avenue reads “Attention: If you have just returned from China, please be sure to stay home for 2 weeks before coming to our office. Thank you for your cooperation.”

A Chinese translation follows the message, and a similar Chinese message is posted outside Maria Tai C.P.A. just next door. 


The impacts may continue as virus spreads

Maggie Collision, an infectious disease fellow at the University of Chicago, said more people may get diagnosed with COVID-19 in the near future.

Currently, scientists have identified the genetic code of COVID-19 and developed a test based on real-time polymerase chain reaction. However, there is still no test for detecting people who had the virus and cleared it, according to Dr. Collison. 

According to MedlinePlus, a website operated by the National Institutes of Health, severe infections are more common in infants, older adults and people with cardiovascular diseases, respiratory diseases or a compromised immune system. 

For taking precautions against COVID-19, Dr. Collision said, “Most of the guidelines out there are to just do what people would do normally with things like a cold or flu.”

The CDC recommends that people avoid close contact with others who are sick, avoid touching the eyes, nose and mouth, stay home when sick, cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue, disinfect surfaces and wash their hands. The CDC only recommends a face mask for people showing symptoms of COVID-19.

Reaffirming the prevention techniques, Dr. Collison said, “I think the number one thing is just good hand washing can really help decrease the spread of any virus, and it’s the same for this virus.”