A new COVID-19 variant called Omicron was discovered in Southern Africa in late November.
The Omicron variant, first identified in Botswana and South Africa, has been the most recent cause for concern among the international communities still fghting of the coronavirus. Cases are popping up in the United States and Europe. Keene State College (KSC) has taken COVID-19 precautions already and is preparing for the variant.
Keene State College President Melinda Treadwell said the college’s COVID-19 team has been reading the primary literature about what is different about Omicron. She said the team understands the variant has been reportedly more transmissible than previous variants, and that masks are going to be very important in keeping students on campus. Treadwell said, “The biggest thing we’re going to be able to do is to continue to have the requirements with the testing and surveillance.”
The college is keeping an eye on the medical effects the variant has on humans. Treadwell said, “We don’t know yet what the health outcomes will be from the individuals affected by this variant. In the next two to three weeks we will have a better sense…”
There have been predictions about what the future of COVID-19 related cases is going to look like in Cheshire County. Treadwell said, “Current modeling is suggesting that our peak in cases in this region will occur when [students] are home… during the winter shut down here at Keene State.”
She said she is worried about how tense it will be on campus if the Omicron variant reaches campus. Treadwell said the college is going to continue to promote the coronavirus vaccine, reporting that just over 80% of faculty and staff and over 70% of students are vaccinated.
Colin Burdick, the KSC Construction Clerk of the Works said that the college is prepared to take on the new variant because they have been thrown “curve balls” before with previous COVID-19 variants. He said the college has a “playbook” of coronavirus precautions that they have found effective in past variants, but Omicron related facts are still yet to be set in stone. Testing protocols on campus are going to continue as normal as Burdick said, “We don’t know enough about Omicron to start [testing changes].”
Burdick said that the college should expect spikes in case numbers from the holidays and next semester’s spring break and that KSC’s protocols have kept case numbers from plateauing. The current testing-by residence-hall system KSC has in play is reported to continue into the next semester. Burdick said the masking procedures are the most effective measures KSC relies on.
Burdick and Treadwell both stated that the effects of the Omicron variant are something we will have to wait to see about.
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