Omicron: Infectious COVID-19 variant sweeps U.S.


The COVID-19 variant Omicron infects at higher rates than any other strain of the virus. Photo Credit: Getty Images

Ailanie Martinez, Reporter

As the two-year anniversary of the beginning of COVID-19 lockdowns quickly approaches and with dwindling national mask and social distancing regulations, Ventura County and Ventura Unified School District (Ventura Unified) face a difficult situation regarding the rising Omicron cases among students and faculty. 

The Omicron variant first appeared in South Africa on Nov. 24, 2021 and the first case of the variant in Ventura County was recorded on Dec. 10, 2021. The variant is proving to be less severe in its symptoms and significantly more transmissible than the original or Delta strain. 

Omicron has even produced a subvariant: BA.2. The subvariant has been estimated to be about 30% more contagious than the original variant, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), but doesn’t seem to have more severe symptoms. 

About 1 in 4 people have tested positive in the county, a 7.7% rise in cases per 100,000 people since the beginning of the holiday season. As a result, the Community Memorial Hospital System (CMHS) and Ventura Unified schools are severely understaffed and overrun.

California has recently lifted the mask regulation indoors for all vaccinated people, despite Los Angeles’ having stricter COVID-19 related regulations, putting pressure on Ventura Unified to make a decision on what vaccinated students should do. However, in an email to Ventura Unified students, Superintendent Roger Rice clarified that the district will reconsider lifting the mask mandate on Feb. 28, 2022.

New COVID-19 quarantine precautions require a 5-10 day isolation period depending on vaccination status, causing many headaches for administrators as they scramble to secure substitutes and teachers as they attempt to teach their half-empty classrooms. 

Principal Russel Gibbs opened up about the difficulties Omicron has caused for staff, “It has been draining. It’s frustrating when you have large absences in your classes. It also causes anxiety. You want to reach out and help, but it’s difficult to do.”

For easy access to testing, the district began to give students take home Covid-19 tests and asked students to take them before they returned for winter break. Holiday gatherings were a point of concern, with the fear of a spike in cases. Gibbs told us, “We had many absences when we returned from winter break, but it was hard to tell who was out due to safety and on quarantine.”

Declining enrollment and attendance has already begun taking their toll on Ventura Unified and the Omicron surge exacerbated the fear of empty classrooms. 

The end of the Omicron surge seems to be in sight, however. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) deaths since the second week of February are down 9%. Average daily U.S. cases are around 129,000, a huge drop from the average 800,000 cases from mid-January, Johns Hopkins data shows. 

To slow the spread, Gibbs recommends, “spreading the word that if you have symptoms to please stay home, keep your distance when you can, and wear masks in your classrooms.”


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