It was warm and partly cloudy on Thursday, March 12, 2020, the fateful day when Governor Tom Wolf took the podium during an impromptu press conference to make the announcement many knew was coming: all Pennsylvania schools would be closed for the following two weeks. Yet, nearly two months prior, a discussion at Haverford had already begun on what to do about the growing number of COVID-19 cases in Asia and Europe.
“I’ve been following this since January, I knew what was going on in Wuhan, and I believed it was coming [to America]. Then I followed it in Italy and I knew it was coming [to America],” Headmaster Dr. Nagl said. “So we’ve been thinking about this and talking about its impact for a while.”
Things grew serious towards the end of February when, on Saturday, February 29, the U.S. reported its first official COVID-19 related death. A few days after, during the first week of March, Dr. Nagl approved a decision proposed by Lower School Head Dr. Greenblatt to postpone the parent-teacher conferences planned for the following week and replace them with a virtual learning day for the faculty and staff.
With tensions rising, members of the administration reached out to the Montgomery County Health Department to find out whether or not anyone from the Haverford community had or had been in contact with the virus. Communication with nearby schools was also organized as everyone waited to see where the first case would appear. It turned out to come sooner than expected and over the weekend before March 12, news broke of two COVID-19 cases at Germantown Academy, leading to an announcement of their closure for the immediate future.
Although faced with the information on COVID-19 cases in the county and the realization that Montgomery County seemed to be the epicenter for the state, many schools, including Haverford, hoped to hold out as long as possible, while still keeping safety in mind.
“We were hoping to get one more lacrosse game, one more baseball game, one more of anything.”Headmaster John Nagl
“We were hoping to get one more lacrosse game, one more baseball game, one more of anything,” said Dr. Nagl.
In the end, those hopes were cut short as the school heard the news of Governor Wolf’s decision.
“I was in my office and my wife actually texted me and said, ‘Did you see this?’ Right after that, the phone started ringing and emails started blowing up,” recalled Head of Upper School Mr. Andrén, “We sort of felt like, okay well, we’re here. So we just have to go with the plans.”
Likewise, Dr. Nagl was sitting in his office when the decision came through and he immediately picked up the phone to call Theater Department Chair Mr. Darren Hengst, director of the school’s upcoming spring musical Carousel. He broke the news to Mr. Hengst and informed him that they could only perform one night of the musical, which was planned for four nights total including the dress rehearsal. So, later that night, with a packed room of over 500 people, the theater department put on its final performance of the school year.
“I actually sat in the back row in case the police came to shut us down, Dr. Nagl said. “It was a magic night. It felt like the party at the end of the world.”