Omicron variant continues to spread as the new year begins


Diego E. Barrera, Staff Writer

2021 ended the same way it began with a massive spike in COVID-19 cases.  With the continuing rise of the Omicron variant, the world is experiencing never-before-seen records of COVID-19 cases.  The United States, whose COVID-19 cases were very low throughout the last year, broke a daily new record, topping 1 million cases on Jan. 3, 2022.  Hospitalizations and deaths are on the rise as well, mainly among unvaccinated or unboosted individuals.

To date, Omicron accounts for 95.4% of new cases in the United States, according to CBS News and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Countries all over the world are also seeing cases of people contracting influenza and COVID-19 simultaneously.  Hence, the CDC has changed quarantine guidelines and is encouraging those as young as five years old to get vaccinated and boosted if they are eligible.  All of this is continuing to create new twists and turns in the fight against the pandemic.

“I kind of expected things to go bad, but not as much as we’re seeing today.  The fact that the peak of the holiday surge is still to come is also very worrisome,” said freshman Shannon Curtin.

Late last year, the Omicron variant hindered some progress made by the U.S., as it was recovering and emerging from the pandemic.  More recently, scientists in Israel, France, the United States, and other countries have discovered that some people are simultaneously becoming infected with the seasonal flu and COVID-19一otherwise known as Flurona.  However, most are being advised to not be very concerned, as long as they are vaccinated against both viruses.  

As Dr. Lucille McBride said to Yahoo News, it is not uncommon for people to be “coinfected with two viruses at the same time一in this case, coronavirus and influenza.”

 The World Health Organization (WHO) has said that for those who are not vaccinated against either the flu or COVID-19, Flurona can cause “catastrophic damage” to one’s immune system.  They say that this is especially true for those with underlying health conditions.  On Jan. 8, The Times of Israel reported that scientists in the island nation of Cyprus discovered a new variant known as Deltacron, which is a combination of the Delta and Omicron variants.  Though only 25 individuals have been infected, that variant is expected to be extremely contagious, which could dramatically increase the number of cases.

“The data has shown that being vaccinated lessens symptoms and in some cases, makes it less likely to get the virus.  Hopefully, Flurona isn’t too contagious and we can stop the further spread,” said junior Alex Almahmoud.

The current phase of the COVID-19 pandemic has health care professionals worried about children and teens in particular.  As U.S. News reports, several school districts, including major public zones in Philadelphia and Chicago, are returning to remote learning, which was seen for the first year of the pandemic.  In New York City, Mayor Eric Adams has mandated that anyone deemed a close contact for COVID-19 administer themselves an at-home test; he said to CNN’s Brianna Keilar on Jan. 4 that doing so would ensure a safe environment in schools.

All of this comes as hospitalizations of young people continue to soar.  A large number of patients in the hospital with the virus are children, who have not yet been inoculated. In New York, the new health commissioner, Dr. Mary Bassett, reported on Jan. 7 that 91% of 5 to 11-year-olds hospitalized are unvaccinated.  However, in recent weeks, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Pfizer-BioNTech’s booster vaccine for those ages 12-17.  As some of the nation’s largest school districts pivot to remote learning amid rising COVID-19 cases, the booster allows for teenagers to have additional protection when they return to class.

“I think that the more people vaccinated, the lower the possibility that schools go virtual.  This is because more people will be protected against potentially severe illness, but if not enough people are vaccinated, then maybe schools can go virtual for some time,” said freshman Dante DelVecchio.

Amid the rise in COVID-19 cases, the CDC has deemed it appropriate to change the quarantine guidelines.  For anyone vaccinated, but not eligible to receive the booster, they must self-isolate themselves for just five days after receiving a positive test for COVID-19.  If one has received a booster dose, they do not need to quarantine, but must wear a mask in public settings.  On the contrary, unvaccinated or unboosted individuals must quarantine for five days and also wear a mask in public for the next five days after.  One is expected to continue isolating if they are symptomatic at the end of their first, shortened quarantine period.  

The CDC made this adjustment to allow healthcare workers to return to work as soon as possible.  Furthermore, the measure is beneficial for other businesses, both big and small, ensuring that the American economy continues to run.

“With the new five-day quarantine guidelines, employees will be able to return to work much quicker and will have only missed a short amount of time,” said junior Jack McNaughton.

Everything the world is witnessing concerning COVID-19 is another sign that the pandemic is far from over.  Omicron has impacted the way that people live all around the world, and with its peak being weeks away, people are uncertain of what new changes are to come.  As the circumstances continue to change, so will the response, which depending on Omicron’s detection, can strengthen or become more lenient.