An inside look on how the new COVID-19 variant is affecting Park County School District #1

Sophia Petrie

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The new Omicron variant quickly spread around the world, making its mark on Powell as well.

Due to the newest Omicron variant appearing late November of 2021, many schools have already reinforced their old COVID-19 regulations. Many changes were made in an effort to reduce the spreading, but to no avail. Many are wondering whether or not we can start preparing for the endemic phase of the COVID virus and any of its variants. 

The trouble started in Botswana after four international travelers tested positive for COVID-19. The number of mutations found compared to the original RNA of the virus was alarming, and the team of scientists responsible for its identification immediately alerted their Minister of Health. Thus began the chain-reaction of newly-heightened restrictions and quarantining protocols. 

“In our district, there have been roughly 40 cases just this week that we know of,”  Superintendent Mr. Jay Curtis said. “I am not sure that the true number is known, as many people with Omicron are experiencing very mild symptoms and not testing…in addition to that, there is more and more resistance to getting tested in general.” 

While the Center of Disease Control agrees that vaccinations are the best protection against the new variant, studies show that it doesn’t actually do much to prevent it. About half of those who were infected with Omicron were vaccinated. 

“In my opinion, I don’t feel that [the vaccine] is necessary or needed,” junior Hyrum Jeide said. “But it is beneficial to the people that do get it so they are able to feel more safe in the areas they go to.”

The vaccine is just one of many options available to us to help prevent this, and we are in no place to forget that. Masks are still available, as is washing our hands or hand sanitizer, as well as social distancing throughout the day. Many schools across the United States have gone back into online learning in efforts to block this new highly-contagious variant from spreading further.

“As a district, we have carefully studied the COVID trends both within our district, within the county, state, and in the nation,” Mr. Curtis said. “I tend to trust our data better than most other sources simply because I know exactly how and what is being tracked. Our protocols represent a combination of CDC recommendations, tempered with our own experiences with COVID. Our goal is to keep as many staff and students in school as possible.” 

The Park County School District #1 did this on their accord with subtle recommendations from the Center of Disease Control. Despite their well intended efforts, many students disagree with how their learning is being handled and the changes made. 

“In my opinion, the new regulations aren’t very helpful for kids who aren’t actually sick, but still quarantined,” freshman Teagan Southwick said. “Several classes gave me zeroes when I wasn’t able to turn things in online, and I found that pretty unfair.”

In my opinion, the new regulations aren’t very helpful for kids who aren’t actually sick, but still quarantined. Several classes gave me zeroes when I wasn’t able to turn things in online, and I found that pretty unfair.”

— Teagan Southwick

Students have reported on several accounts that their grades dropped immensely after being quarantined. It was a struggle for many to keep up with the expanding work load, especially when they were actually sick and stuck in bed.

“What an endemic phase of a viral infection means is that it’s not causing the terrible hospitalizations of the pandemic phase, but that we’ll have enough immunity of a population so it’s kept down to low levels,” UCSF Infectious Disease Dr. Monica Gandhi said. 

Due to the Omicron variant spreading so quickly, regardless of being vaccinated or not, most are hoping this will speed up the immunity process. Once immunity to the variant Omicron is reached, it will in theory provide immunity to COVID-19. 

In regards to the chance of regulation-free schools in 2022, Mr. Curtis is hopeful. 

“Absolutely, and as we are moving from pandemic to endemic illness; this will probably happen sooner than you might think.”