When the Covid-19 pandemic first rampaged through the country, everything had to change. School was shut down, people were locked in their houses, no one was safe. However, we have come a long way from washing all our groceries and wiping off desks. Covid-19 is still a major problem, but we should not stick to protocols implemented in the beginning of the pandemic if they no longer apply. Therefore, as winter quickly approaches and eating outside is no longer a feasible option, students should be permitted to eat indoors in spaces other than the cafeteria.
According to the LS website, the school has about 1,510 students attending each day. We have two lunch blocks—first and third lunch—meaning that 755 students have lunch at the same time. This is roughly 18 school busses worth of people. Now imagine 18 school buses worth of people all cramming into one large room. That is what indoor lunch will be like every day if students are forced to eat in the cafeteria for lunch. Sarah Schwartz of EducationWeek spoke with Aparna Kumar, an assistant professor of nursing at Thomas Jefferson University, College of Nursing. Schwartz writes, “having hundreds of students in one cafeteria, with minimal distancing between them, ‘that’s just not a good idea.’” Everyone is unmasked while eating lunch and because of the limited room, students crowd around tables. There is barely a few inches of space between people, let alone three to six feet. School lunches are like a more crowded and unsafe version of indoor dining, which many people have stopped attending during the pandemic. This protocol was put in place to prevent the increase of Covid, but it may spread it even more.
Eating in the lunchroom is not just harmful to the growth of the pandemic, but can also harm students socially. The overcrowded tables in the lunchroom isolate students from their friend groups. If someone does not get a seat with their friends, there is not enough space for them to pull up a chair or sit somewhere nearby so they are excluded from the group. It is only November and we are already facing an overcrowding issue with many students still eating outside. We can only expect more problems to arise when the weather no longer permits outdoor eating. I, an LS student, have braved the cold on multiple occasions because I could not find a table in the cafeteria. Even if I had found a table, having a higher-risk family member would make me very concerned about eating around so many people. The University of Minnesota states that “nationally, approximately 60% of high school students skip breakfast each morning and 14% of them do not eat the meal most or all days of the week.” If students do not eat breakfast or lunch, they are then not getting nourishment until 3:15pm at the earliest. Only eating in the cafeteria would impair students’ opportunities to eat and be the most productive and healthy people they can.
One of the leading concerns for eating places other than the cafeteria is the spread Covid-19. If people are constantly unmasked and eating in the halls, it could create an unsafe environment and increase the spread of the disease. Nonetheless, by permitting students to eat in places other than the lunchroom, the school is not implementing a new system, but rather going back to an old one. Older students know the proper etiquette for eating outside the lunchroom and can teach the underclassmen. Furthermore, the LS community has a very high vaccination rate of 90% of students, 100% of faculty, and 91% of all other staff vaccinated. Paired with the weekly student and staff Covid testing, LS is a very Covid cautious and safe school. Moreover, Covid cases are down 17% and overall vaccination rates for ages 12 and up are at 81% for the whole county. Having the option to eat in indoor spaces other than the cafeteria would provide a safe and beneficial option to all LS students.
There are still so many unknowns in our world today, but we should take each opportunity to return to normalcy we can. Even though we are still battling through the pandemic, life is slowly getting safer. The LS community should take one step at a time to get back to normal, starting with students being able to eat indoors in places other than in the cafeteria.