Upperclassmen feel both excitement and COVID worries for prom

2022 Promposal Competition winners Samantha Yamashita, Vienna Liu, Evan Seki and Thomas Rimsa pose with their signs. According to senior Olga Muys, this year’s prom is especially exciting as seniors were unable to attend prom last year due to the pandemic. “I missed out on being able to go to prom my junior year because of COVID, and so I’m super excited to get to go,” Muys said. “It’s just part of the high school experience to go and wear a pretty dress and heels.” (Photo courtesy of Samantha Yamashita)

Upperclassmen at Palo Alto High School are moving towards a celebratory prom experience — the first in two years — with a combination of caution and excitement following a rise in COVID-19 in Santa Clara County locally.

Students are particularly on edge due to a recent COVID outbreak resulting from Gunn High School’s prom. Gunn, who upheld the same testing or full vaccination requirement that Paly has outlined for this weekend, saw a large surge in cases following their April 30 prom, with 58 students reportedly testing positive for the virus.

Similarly, San Mateo High School reported nearly 100 student COVID-19 cases after their April prom event. According to district spokesperson Laura Chalkley, masks were strongly recommended but few students kept them on. The district said they will implement stricter precautions for other high school proms.

Senior Savannah Voth, who plans to attend Prom, said she is slightly worried about the spread of COVID-19 at prom, but not enough to stop her from attending.

“I heard that one of the other schools in the area had a lot of COVID cases after their prom, and so I think I definitely have a little bit of apprehension there,” Voth said. “I’m probably not actively worried about it — it’s just kind of there in the back of my mind a little bit.”

Student Activities Director Steven Gallagher said it is difficult to find a solution that works for everyone, especially with constant changes to the COVID-19 situation.

“The amount of changes that has gone on with this prom dating back to January have just been incredible,” Gallagher said. “Just to try to meet up with the needs of the community and make sure everyone’s safe. No one has the correct answer, because it’s [COVID-19 changes] unprecedented.”

COVID-19 prevalence, both at Paly and county-wide, is on the rise. At Paly, there was an average of 10 reported cases per week in April compared to an average of 2 reported cases per week in March. In Santa Clara County, there has been a 61% increase in reported COVID-19 cases in the past 14 days.

Masks will not be required, but strongly encouraged, according to a message Gallagher sent to Paly parents on ParentSquare this week.  The message also discussed COVID-19 procedures, including recommending that students get tested in the week before Prom, offering at-home tests to students to pick up on Friday, requesting students to stay home if they feel COVID-19 symptoms, and requiring either a negative COVID-19 test or proof of full vaccination to attend Prom.

Given the consequences of not wearing a mask, especially with finals week around the corner for upperclassmen, Gallagher said it is up to students to choose to further protect themselves by wearing a mask.

“It’s a personal choice, what [wearing a mask or not] is correct for you,” Gallagher said.

Senior Olga Muys echoed those sentiments, though she felt universal masking would help reduce the likelihood of COVID spread at the event.

“I’ll probably be wearing my mask,” Muys said. “Whether other people don’t — it’s their choice, their prerogative, but obviously, it would be better if we all wore masks in terms of COVID.”

Senior Sofia Antebi said she is likely going to wear her mask at Prom for safety before graduation, and hopes that others will as well.

“I’m kind of conflicted about [wearing a mask], because obviously I want to be safe and be able to do all the grad [graduation] stuff,” Antebi said.