Chicago “Monitors” New Omicron COVID-19 Variant

Courtesy of FrankundFrei via PixabayResearchers announced the discovery of a new COVID-19 strain called the Omicron variant Nov. 26.

Researchers announced Nov. 26 the discovery of a new COVID-19 strain called the Omicron variant. First detected mid-November in South Africa, cases have been popping up across Europe, parts of southern Africa, East Asia and Canada, the Associated Press (AP) reported.

In a joint Nov. 30 press release Arwardy and City of Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said they’re “monitoring this strain” and urged people to continue to follow previous COVID-19 guidelines such as getting vaccinated, receiving a booster shot and wearing a mask indoors.

There have been no reported cases in the United States or Chicago, but the city’s top doctor Allison Arwady — the commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) — said it’s likely people in Chicago already have it and formal detection will probably come in the following days, Block Club Chicago reported.

While Loyola senior Tatiana Fernandez said she was going to get the booster shot “no matter what,” news of the variant was what made her go “full send.”

Fernandez, 22, also said Loyola should require students to get the third shot. 

“If you already have two vaccinations, what’s one more booster gonna do to you,” the finance major said.

Research on the variant is still ongoing and it’s not known if the new strain is more transmissible or leads to more serious disease, according to the World Health Organization.

Cases in Chicago are currently trending downward, according to the City of Chicago COVID Dashboard. The current daily average for cases is down 18%, hospitalizations are down 37% and deaths are down 84% from the previous week. Still, the city’s positivity rate has risen marginally.

COVID-19 case totals have plummeted nationally since Nov. 24, the New York Times reported. The seven-day average for new positive cases reported stands at 79,249, according to the CDC.

In the past week, case numbers have fallen 17%, with hospitalizations falling 11% and deaths 27%, The Washington Post reported.

It remains to be seen whether numbers are artificially deflated from a lack of testing as many states didn’t report numbers on Thanksgiving. Still, the 14-day average for testing is up 24% as of Nov. 30, the New York Times reported. 

The arrival of the Omicron variant has many governments on edge across the globe, causing concern for the reinvigorated travel industry losing the wind in its sails. Some countries have reinstituted border closures amid fear of a winter spike akin to 2020. 

The U.S. instated travel restrictions for non-citizens from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi entering the country out of “caution,” President Joe Biden announced Nov. 29.

While U.S. travel restrictions haven’t affected any countries in South America, Fernandez — whose parents reside in Colombia and she plans to visit this winter break — worries she won’t be able to visit them in 2022.

“I probably can’t go back home for spring break,” she said. 

Loyola switched to online classes in March 2020 amid the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic. After a year and a half of online and hybrid school, the university welcomed students back at full capacity this fall.

Sophomore economics major Janessa Carrillo said she doesn’t think the university will have to resort to those same measures it took two years ago.

“I think we kind of dealt with Delta when we first got here for the fall semester,” Carrillo, 19, said. “So if we keep up wearing masks and getting vaccinated, I think it won’t affect the spring semester.”

In an address to the nation after meeting with the COVID-19 committee, Biden urged Americans to remain cautious, get vaccinated and booster shots.

​​”This variant is a cause for concern, not a cause for panic,” Biden said. “We’re going to fight and beat this new variant.”

Carrillo and Fernandez both said they plan to get booster shots in the near future. After news of the Omicron variant broke, Fernandez immediately booked her appointment, she said. 

In a Nov. 23 email to students, the university encouraged “all students, faculty, and staff to receive a booster shot if it has been at least six months since receiving a second dose of Pfizer or Moderna or at least two months since receiving the single dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.”

As of Nov. 30, Loyola has yet to require booster shots for students.

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