COVID-19: Emergence of Omicron evokes concerns within community

Sara+Kim+%28%E2%80%9924%29%2C+Ines+Caillaux+Diaz+%28%E2%80%9924%29+and+Emma+Symonds+%28%E2%80%9923%29+wear+masks+while+working+on+the+yearbook+in+the+journalism+lab+Dec.6.+Director+of+Operations+Jim+Heynderickx+sent+an+email+to+members+of+the+community+to+address+a+new+mask+mandate+imposed+Nov.+28.

Gabrielle Meidar

Sara Kim (’24), Ines Caillaux Diaz (’24) and Emma Symonds (’23) wear masks while working on the yearbook in the journalism lab Dec.6. Director of Operations Jim Heynderickx sent an email to members of the community to address a new mask mandate imposed Nov. 28.

Gabrielle Meidar and Nick Zirinis

Among the threats posed by COVID-19 is the frequency of mutations arising that cause new variants. 

The World Health Organization has declared that Omicron, the new COVID-19 variant first identified in South Africa Nov. 24, has the potential to be more transmissible than the highly infectious Delta variant. WHO has since labelled Omicron as a “variant of concern.” 

Science Teacher Jude Ruff said when she first heard about the new variant, she was not surprised; however, she said she feels frustrated that COVID-19 continues to spread. 

“The scientist in me said, ‘Yep, these mutations were going to happen, here we are,’” she said. “And then, the emotional human person said, ‘Oh, I can’t believe this is happening again.’”

According to Al Jazeera, it is inevitable that as COVID-19 spreads and mutates, more variants will arise and further mutate. 

Omicron is currently the variant with the most mutations than any others, per BBC. According to NPR, it also has the potential to bypass the protection received from the COVID-19 vaccines. 

Meanwhile, Nick Ghantous (’23) said he believes that because society has already had to adapt to the implications of COVID-19, it is well equipped to respond to another variant. 

“With all the technology we have today, like vaccines and the protocols we’ve made and have seen work, with masks especially, I’m not as worried as I was before,” he said. “But I’m still quite cautious about it.” 

According to gov.uk, the U.K. government mandated mask-wearing in shops and on public transport Nov. 30. This is a temporary response to the threats posed by Omicron while scientists work to gather more information. 

On the one hand, Alex Demetris (’22) said he thinks the government will respond effectively to any of the potential dangers associated with the new variant. 

“It is obviously super unfortunate, but I’m a little bit optimistic because we have been in COVID-19 for [one and a half years],” he said. “Our government is pretty experienced with ways to prevent COVID spreading and keeping this specific variant out of the U.K.”

On the other hand, Ruff said she feels that the government is not implementing sufficient measures to prevent the potential spread of Omicron.

“I read what the scientists suggest, and one of those things is to not have the gatherings, you know, one of the ways we know we can reduce transmission,” she said. “And so I’m a bit disappointed that the government isn’t following the science, as I’ve said before, to help keep our population safer.” 

Masks

In light of the new variant, Director Of Operations Jim Heynderickx sent out an email Nov. 28 on behalf of the administration requiring the school community to wear masks and abide by government regulations.

While Demetris said he is frustrated that COVID-19 has once again reached a boiling point, he said he understands the importance in protecting the community and, therefore, will adhere to the school’s recommendations. 

The scientist in me said, ‘Yep, these mutations were going to happen, here we are.’ And then, the emotional human person said, ‘Oh, I can’t believe this is happening again.’”

— Science Teacher Jude Ruff

“It’s pretty unfortunate that we have to wear masks because for a month it was optional and it kind of felt like normal school,” he said. “But since it lowers the risk of spreading COVID and it is a health and safety precaution, then, by all means, go ahead. It’s not the end of the world.” 

In addition, Ghantous said he believes the reintroduction of masks is a positive change as it will contribute toward reducing the potential increase in transmission of the new variant. 

“We have seen that masks are so useful for stopping the spread of COVID-19, so I feel like it’s the right thing to do to go back to full masks,” he said. “Because as long as we can get out of this and can go back to normal sooner than later, I’m OK with masks.” 

Travel

Not only has mask-wearing been mandated nationally, travel regulations have also tightened. According to gov.uk, the U.K. government announced Nov. 30 that all international travelers coming into the U.K. must self-isolate until they receive a negative PCR test result. 

In addition, according to gov.uk, as the new variant has emerged, countries and territories, including South Africa, Angola, and Botswana, have been added to the “red list.” This list indicates that those traveling to the U.K. from these countries are required to both take a PCR test and quarantine in a hotel for 10 days upon arrival. 

Ghantous said he is concerned that the new variant may affect his plans to travel to the U.S. over winter break. 

“I have not seen most of my family, like my brother, my mom and my grandparents, in a long time,” he said. “So I want to go back there for Christmas and the thought of not being able to is quite scary.”

Demetris, who has not gotten the chance to visit family lately, said he recognizes that in order to reduce the spread of the virus, following government regulations surrounding travel is necessary. 

“It would be a bummer if I couldn’t travel to see my family who I haven’t seen in half a year,” he said. “But it might mean that everyone else will be healthy, and hopefully in the long run … we can come back to normal school and a normal community again.” 

Ruff said while she is trying to stay optimistic about her future travel plans to go see her family, she is still worried that Omicron might force her to delay her trip. 

“I kind of thought, OK, we can get back to normal, and my sister’s recovering from cancer, so I’m really excited to go see her,” she said. “I have everything crossed that it might still happen, but I started to allow myself to think that that would have to be delayed … We’ll see.” 

Looking forward, Ruff said because of all that has already been disrupted throughout COVID-19, she hopes that Omicron will not particularly cause any more sudden changes to everyone’s day to day lives.

“I really hope that we’re not just going in and out of lockdowns all the time,” she said. “I mean, I think that would be a hard life to live and would reduce our connection with other parts of the world.”