Omicron COVID-19 Variant Spreads in the U.S.

Students and faculty share their thoughts on the new COVID-19 Omicron variant and its effect on Stuyvesant.

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The new B.1.1.529 Omicron variant of COVID-19 has been a growing concern among members of the Stuyvesant community in recent weeks. First detected in South Africa, the variant now makes up approximately 13 percent of all COVID cases in New York. Following Omicron’s entry into New York City, the city’s COVID positivity rate doubled in three days. According to the Department of Education (DOE)’s daily COVID case tracker, a total of 799 public school district classroom closures are in effect—with students from affected schools having transitioned to at-home online learning—due to confirmed COVID-19 cases. The increased antibody resistance and risk of infection associated with the Omicron variant, as well as the lack of concrete information on its implications, has generated discourse within the Stuyvesant community on how the variant will affect the school.

To counter the risk of the variant, the Stuyvesant administration is adhering to current safety guidelines, as well as sending out consistent e-mails to keep the school community informed. “We are continuing to follow the health and safety protocols from the DOE, [...] NY Test and Trace, and the [NYC Department] of Health,” Director of Family Engagement Dina Ingram said in an e-mail interview. “The health and safety of our school community [remains] a top priority. Reminders are sent out for booster shots, vaccination availability as well as consent for testing for unvaccinated students.”

Members of the Stuyvesant community have noticed the effect of the recent jump in COVID cases due to the Omicron variant. Many students have expressed concerns regarding the spread of the new variant at Stuyvesant. “There have been more notifications sent about confirmed COVID cases in the school,” freshman Eva Lam said in an e-mail interview. “If enough cases are confirmed, I’m afraid [that] school [will go] remote again. [...] Most students need to be in the building and interacting with others in order to learn, so the new variant will be a detriment for the majority of [students].”

Some members of staff share similar concerns about the variant. “At this point, Omicron does not seem to cause the same level of physiological carnage as the Delta, especially when fully vaccinated. But 40 percent of the US is not vaccinated [and] of those that are vaccinated, the efficacy of the vaccine seems to be waning. Coupled with the potential for the possibility of new variants, [...] I am worried,” AP Environmental Science teacher Jerry Citron said in an e-mail interview.

Nevertheless, Citron also realizes the challenges of enforcing COVID-related rules. “Given the size of the school and its frenetic pace at Stuy, students from my observations are incredibly mask compliant. However, given class sizes, group work, and moving through our crowded building, social distancing is nearly impossible to mandate,” he said.

Other members of the student body have echoed this concern about social distancing. “I do notice that during dismissal, halls become congested but [...] you can’t do too much about it because there are a lot of students,” freshman Daler Khudaykulov said in an e-mail interview. And the notion that this risk is an inevitability is widespread. “I will likely not take extra precautions [against Omicron]— I mean, there's only so much I can do while in a crowded subway car or crowding through the hallways to get to my next class to protect myself,” Lam said.

Yet, Lam also emphasizes the importance of continuing to practice existing precautions. “The mask mandates should be enforced. I [am concerned by] quite a few students walking around without masks, and a couple of my teachers only wear their masks at select times,” she said.

As the Omicron variant continues to become a greater concern, the administration echoes the urgency of following COVID guidelines. “We also continue to stress the importance of staying home if you are sick. Tests and work can be made up. Do not come to school [...] if you are not feeling well, and perform the DOE health screening every day with accuracy to keep our community safe,” Ingram said.