Omicron Variant: Here We Go Again?

With the extreme outbreak of yet another sci-fi sounding virus, the SARS-CoV-2 variant, Omicron, has heavily impacted and influenced Florida, Miami-Dade, and specifically Krop since the end of our winter-recess as positive cases sky-rocket, daily attendance suffers, Covid-19 protocols continuously fluctuate.

Scientists are rapidly looking to find a treatment as Omicron becomes the dominant variant in the United States, overtaking Delta in late December 2021. Since Omicron was identified in late November 2021, there has been limited understanding towards the headlining virus. 

“We don’t yet know how easily it spreads, the severity of illness it causes, or how well available vaccines and medications work against it,”  said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Dec. 20, 2021.

Post-winter break, Omicron enveloped Miami-Dade, with cases more than tripling in number within a 3-week period. According to USA Facts’ tracking map, on Dec. 23 , the 7-day average case rate was at 1,649, only to spike to 15,777 on Jan. 7, 2022. 

Despite a drastic influx of Covid-19 cases, Krop’s post-break attendance remained relatively steady. With the Monday following winter-recess exhibiting an attendance quota of 78.3 percent, Omicron didn’t vigorously impact the percentage in comparison to previous years which range around 80 percent. 

“Considering that there were also teachers out, the attendance percentage is not very accurate since students were not going to class or substitutes were missing kids, so there’s a lot of factors that go into play,” Assistant Principal Ines Meras said.

The Covid-19 regulations and restrictions that the students and faculty are following are implemented by the district and not Krop itself. Meras said that the district is constantly updating its guidelines, changing its policies three times in the past month alone. The terms for quarantining, absences and returning back to school are far more complex and ever-altering than what’s initially understood. 

“I know that the teachers are very frustrated, but until we confirm, verify, and get authorization, we cannot put students in quarantine nor allow them back in the school,” Meras said. “The district needs to meet the minimum guidelines presented by the state and the country, but they can choose to exceed some of the CDC recommendations for certain protocols.”

Additionally, there was an obvious teacher shortage the first week that we had returned from break. Meras clarifies that the absences may not all be Covid-related, as many people travel or choose not to return the first week back; the drop in attendance cannot be primarily advocated to Omicron’s presence. 

Furthermore, the number of positive cases in Krop remains steady as Meras confirmed 42 as of Dec. 31, 2021. In regards to faculty, only three teachers tested positive over break and were back in school within the week, once tested negative. So while the scarcity of faculty was definitely prominent, Omicron wasn’t exactly the culprit for the attendance deficit.

Conversely, with cases growing vigorously in number, there was doubt regarding our return to school in January. The general consensus towards our physical reinstatement seems to be in favor of in-person learning as many students were relieved to keep Zoom off their browsers for the time being.  

“I did really poorly last year online because I couldn’t stay focused when not in a classroom setting,” junior Paula Canonico said. “Masks should be mandated, especially when covid is spreading so much more. I understand that the school districts can’t mandate that, but I think it’s something the governor should take into consideration, considering the amount of cases and the variants that are developing.”

At a press-conference in Jacksonville, the Tuesday back from break, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said the outcomes tend to be worse when schools close and will therefore remain open until further notice. 

“It’s important that students who have already been affected by a loss of education be in school and afforded the opportunity to receive an education with consistency,” Assistant Principal Humberto Brito said. “I trust that the district in conjunction with the health department and medical professionals are taking the appropriate steps and action to keep everyone safe.” 

Additionally, the ban on mask-mandates in Florida schools still stands, as the September court-decision has yet to be withdrawn. 

“I believe students are at risk but I trust that parents and responsible parties within the community are making sound decisions on keeping students isolated, quarantined and tested to ensure other students are not exposed to any virus,” Brito said.

Out of the 5,448,288 confirmed Covid-19 cases in Florida as of Jan. 26, 2022, Miami-Dade county takes the lead in contributions with 46,959 cases from Jan. 19 to Jan. 25 and 1,098,467 cases in total. 

As rankings for the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases close in, Florida takes third as of Jan. 27, 2022, just below Texas. Even so, with PCR-testing lines turning into campouts and self-testing kits disappearing from shelves, Gov. Ron DeSantis and his administration has approved the decision for the expiration and disposal of one million Covid-19 rapid test kits. This occurrence only contributes to the shortage of tests as people claim to be “desperate” for kits. 

While it seems that we will be fluent in the Greek alphabet by the time all the new variants emerge, it’s projected that in-person learning will remain just that. The great “mask debacle” will persist, leaving the decisions up to the parents, as the District continues to implement various, ever-changing covid protocols.