Revaluating during what may be the biggest spike in cases of the Covid-19 pandemic
By Melanie Moyer
There’s no more denying the presence of Omicron in the United States, nor the case numbers that resemble those from the beginning of the pandemic. Our government and collective society must answer now how we will react to this new development in what we once thought of as a disappearing problem.
The Covid-19 pandemic was all but forgotten during the busy fall semester here on the Saint Mary’s campus, as students were attending regular in-person classes and most of the community was vaccinated—which, up until now, was enough protection from classrooms where people chose not to wear masks or busy hallways during passing periods. Reporters from The Collegian uncovered and reported on several stories regarding the safety on campus—such as forged vaccine cards, illegitimate religious exemptions, and the reality of outdoor, unmasked classes—but as we learn more about this more contagious and evasive but less dangerous mutation, we see that our strategy needs to change to ensure that safety is our first priority.
Our present situation seems as simple as deciding whether classes will be conducted totally online, in-person, or a combination of both. However, it is unclear how the school will change its strategy to decide if any in-person classes are safe for students and professors. Omicron complicates this decision-making process even more than it already was (who knew the unprecedented could become so unprecedented?). Dr. Jeffrey Shaman, an infectious disease modeler and epidemiologist at Columbia whose team built one of the first Covid-19 models, reveals that institutions such as Saint Mary’s will need to take more into account when considering the safety of the campus.
Shaman shares that his team’s “models project that the United States is likely to document more Covid-19 cases in January than in any previous month of the pandemic, but a smaller fraction of those cases will require hospitalization.” This is due to the more contagious and immunity-evading nature of Omicron. “Whether hospitals experience more or less strain than they did in January 2021,” he shares, “will depend on case numbers and how severe they are.”
Thus, Shaman indicates that the most critical number to look at now will be hospitalizations and deaths rather than just cases. We have learned that herd immunity is not much more than a pipe dream and that our best hope is to get vaccinated and boosted. We cannot know if future variants will be worse than Omicron or if they will also evade immunity from previous strains. Further, it should be our goal to prevent higher infection rates to protect those who would require hospitalization if they contracted the virus.
With this in mind, Saint Mary’s is posed with the challenge of keeping students safe—especially considering that we cannot know who will need to be hospitalized and who will not—while also maintaining a sense of normalcy and connection for the Saint Mary’s community. As a senior who is involved in many community-building clubs and activities, I hope that we can return to a Fall 2021-esque world again. The more practical part of myself knows, however, that to ensure the safety of our community during another spike in the pandemic, we must reevaluate our approach to on-campus learning. The fact that we’ll still be reckoning with Covid-19 on a large scale this spring is a hard truth to swallow, but our community needs to stay patient and keep our most vulnerable safe. Please stay safe, get boosted, buy an N95 if you haven’t already, and remain open to the possibilities of the new year.
Ryan Ford '23,