NEW YEAR, NEW VARIANT

2022 starts off with omicron surge

Multiple+students+are+missing+in+Justin+Colados+classroom%2C+mostly+due+to+close+contact+or+testing+positive+to+omicron.+

By Shane Kaneshiro

Multiple students are missing in Justin Colados classroom, mostly due to close contact or testing positive to omicron.

Shane Kaneshiro, reporter

As a new semester began at McKinley High School, a surge of a new variant called omicron triggered many students’ absences and anxiety.
Starting the first week of January, teachers noticed a significant increase in student absences due to COVID-19. For AVID teacher Justin Collado, one-third of his 20/20 was missing.
“It’s just so distressing seeing a lot of students out,” Collado said, “There’s a big hole in the middle of a classroom.”
Teachers are not the only ones feeling the effects of absences. Office assistant Hailey Tanaka has been bombarded with more calls, 20-plus many mornings.
“The normal morning bustle is even crazier,” Tanaka said.
Students are also aware that many of their classmates are missing. Sophomore June-lyn Degracia has seen up to three to five of her classmates absent during the surge. Some of her family and friends have contracted COVID-19.
“It’s pretty terrifying because I could have it (COVID-19) right now but you wouldn’t know,” Degracia said.
In an update in February, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that omicron is more contagious than the delta variant. Omicron spreads to someone even if they are vaccinated or don’t show any symptoms.
While Degracia fears catching COVID-19, other students who contracted the virus know that it’s a miserable experience. Senior Andrew Valdez caught COVID-19 at the beginning of the semester. While being in quarantine, Valdez felt terrible with a fever that lasted three days. He also had to notify his teachers that he wouldn’t be attending school for the next few days.
While some students haven’t contracted COVID-19 friends and family might have caught the virus. Junior June Jolikiep has known some people that have been affected by COVID-19. Some of them even died from this virus.
“Omicron is much worse. I see a lot more people getting infected (by COVID-19) on campus and in my personal life,” Jolilkiep said
The omicron surge made the workload for Principal Ron Okamura and the vice principals more difficult. When a student or staff catches COVID-19, Okamura said three administrators are working “almost full-time” contact tracing students or staff who have been exposed. One case sometimes takes an entire day to complete all the contact tracings. The time period they are most worried about is lunch.
“That’s when everyone is close together, no mask, and sometimes sharing food,” Okamura said.
Contact tracing is only one of the mediation strategies the school uses. Some students are not adhering to mediation strategies such as wearing masks. Degracia said she is concerned about whether students are wearing their masks properly in the class.
“I’ve seen kids with their mask down or not covering (their nose) correctly,” Degracia said.

Office assistant Hailey Tanaka is taking a phone call during the “morning bustle.” (By Shane Kaneshiro)

Another issue with the omicron surge is that students, teachers, and staff are growing tired of the restrictions and this pandemic in general. For Collado, seeing the number of cases at this point of the pandemic seems more like numbers instead the amount of people that caught COVID-19.
“I think a lot of people are getting more lax, which is understandable because we have been going through this (pandemic) for the past two years or so,” Collado said.
On January 20, 2022, an emergency meeting by the Board of Education was held to discuss the rise in absences in the schools. About 10% of atendance dropped in the first week. Data showed out of 1576 students 87.7% of students at McKinley High School were present during the second quarter. During the third quarter, 78.2% of students were present on the week of January 7th.
One response to the rise in cases in the school was students were required to leave the school premises immediately after school unless they are actively involved in school-related activities.
Most of the regulations that were implemented before the surge such as MHS (mask, hand washing, and social distancing) have been effective, the princial said, for a school the size of McKinley.
“We’ve been very lucky in the sense that our students are really taking to heart to keeping themselves safe,” Okamura said.
Following the guidelines is one strategy that has kept students, teachers and staff safe. Freshman Codie Soriano said everyone should continue to follow the safety guidelines.
“Wear your mask properly, wash your hands, and make sure that your hygiene is really good,” Soriano said
This pandemic is not going to go away soon. Nevertheless, there are vaccines and treatments that can help control COVID-19.
“We are at a completely different point in the pandemic than we were two years ago,” Collado said. “We have all these tools available to us that are going help us fight against the pandemic.”