How Will the Omicron Variant Affect Students?

Paula Zhuang, Managing Editor

As students head into the much-anticipated holiday season and new year, the spread of a new COVID-19 variant is introducing uncertainty into schools and communities.

The omicron strain was originally discovered in South Africa in late November 2021 after a spike in coronavirus patients, and the US identified its first case on December 1 in California. As of December 6, it has been detected in 17 states in the nation, including Connecticut and Massachusetts where the affected individuals had been fully vaccinated. Twenty-three other countries have reported cases as well.

The variant, officially titled B.1.1.529, has numerous mutations and seems to be more contagious than other strains as well as less responsive to vaccines and natural immunity from previously having COVID-19.

However, on Sunday, White House medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci called the preliminary data “encouraging.” This is in response to a report released by the South African Medical Research Council on Saturday, which implied that the infections caused by omicron are less severe than other COVID strains as patients seem to require less oxygen treatment. However, the data is not conclusive yet, and more research may upend or confirm these early hypotheses.

Right now, most of the COVID-19 cases in the United States are caused by the Delta variant, which remains the primary concern. In early November, the infection rate among children under 18 increased, suggesting that diligence is yet required in school environments.

Despite that, it is important to keep an eye out for developments in scientists’ understanding of the omicron variant. If it presents very mild symptoms, similar to the flu, and becomes the dominant worldwide strain, COVID-19 may become less of a threat. Public life—including in schools—may regain a greater sense of normalcy.

On the other hand, if it is highly dangerous and transmissible, there may be less than favorable changes to educational environments and upcoming holiday plans.

Updates are forthcoming on this avenue.