COVID-19 case numbers and hospitalization rates in the United States have remained relatively low in recent weeks compared to the Delta variant surge experienced in August and September. However, a new variant of concern named Omicron, and the upcoming winter/holiday season could change the pandemic’s outlook.
The Omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus was dubbed a variant of concern by the World Health Organization on Nov. 26th. While scientists say it’s too early to come up with any certain conclusions about Omicron, the mutations it has gone through have been cause for concern.
The current seven-day moving average of newly reported COVID-19 cases fell 8.5% (86,413) from the previous seven-day moving average (94,393) according to the Centers for Disease Control. Thus far we haven’t seen a type of spike that could be accredited to people gathering together for Thanksgiving. However it’s important to note, reported case numbers and hospitalizations do lag behind actual spread of the virus.
Prior to the holiday season last year, many scientists and disease experts were recommending that people stay home and avoid traveling due to the potential risk of spreading the virus. Despite the countless warnings, people still traveled, giving the COVID-19 virus the opportunity to spread amongst families in cold Winter conditions. The jump in cases was massive, going from as low as 24,589 cases on Sept. 7, 2020, to as high as 294,589 cases on Jan. 8, 2021 (according to the CDC). That kind of massive spike has many frightened about what things could look like this year.
“I am [nervous] just because people want to be with their families and I understand that, so it’s just gonna spike no matter what,” said Crystal Velacruz a Sophomore at Texas State University.
However, there are notable differences between last year and now, the most significant of which being the COVID-19 vaccine, which scientist say is our best defense against the virus. That paired with a much more nuanced understanding of the virus itself will hopefully mean better days are ahead this holiday season. As of Dec. 2, 2021, 234 million people have been at least partially vaccinated, with 198 million people being fully vaccinated. Additionally, 43 million people have received a booster shot. Even with the vaccine, some people are still taking precautions this winter to avoid a repeat of last year’s spike.
Leslie De la Serda, a junior at Texas State University, didn’t have any plans to return home for Thanksgiving break. “My mom recently had surgery and she’s elderly, she’s been taken care of, but I don’t want to go back with all my college germs,” De la Serda said.
Some, on the other hand feel that the strides that have been made regarding the pandemic are enough for them to return to normal life. They trust that the vaccine will protect them in their travels, and they can only hope others are also vaccinated.
“I only really wear my mask when my mom makes me,” said Myles McCarver, a student at McCallum High School. “I guess when we go to the store, or like go out to eat, but when it’s just me, I don’t really think about it.”
Grocery stores, classrooms, and offices are filled with people who chose to wear masks, some with their masks down, and some who chose not to wear one. It’s a confusing time where it seems that no one is on the same page about how much they’re letting the pandemic affect their lives.
“You can go to one part of the country where everyone’s masked up and then another where people are talking about the pandemic being over,” said Amy Pommerening, a professor of philosophy at Texas State University.
This lack of unity makes it hard to move forward because scientists aren’t as easily able to predict how people’s actions will change the state of the pandemic. There could be a larger spike than before because of the inevitable increased travel, or there could be no spike at all because enough people are still staying home and those who chose to travel are vaccinated.
For now, all one can do is take steps to prevent spreading the virus. That includes all of the typical hygienic approaches like washing your hands, coughing into your arm, so on and so forth. Now, it also includes getting your vaccine. Those who are vaccinated are significantly less likely to catch COVID-19, but if they do manage to get it (as does happen occasionally) they’re still also significantly less likely to end up in the hospital. All of that means that you’re less likely to spread the virus to anyone else, which is a factor in some people’s decision to get vaccinated.
“The biggest thing for me is that I don’t want to be the cause for anyone else’s death,” said Raymond Hagler, a junior at Texas State University. “I don’t want to get on a plane and unknowingly spread Covid, then have one thing lead to another and somehow that ends up killing someone’s grandma in West Virginia. I do not want that. I don’t want to cause other people’s death. That’s my concern.”
For some, getting the vaccine is a privilege they might not have. Many of Nurse Practitioner Kate Regan’s patients live with some form of cancer, meaning they’re immunocompromised. Because the vaccine works in a way that builds off of and improves your immune system, it’s much less effective for those who have weak immune systems.
“They’re able to be vaccinated but… in order for a vaccine to be effective it requires an immune system to make antibodies that will react the next time that immune system is exposed to the virus, so yes my patients get vaccinated, but I tell them that it is not a sure thing,” Regan said.
Regan says it’s always hard to tell her patients that the vaccine won’t be as effective for them, but she uses that as an opportunity to educate her patients’ families or caregivers about how important it is for them to get vaccinated.
“You have friends and family that wanna help you?” said Regan. “Tell them that this is a way that they can help you. Get themselves vaccinated and tell everyone they know to get vaccinated because that will help you and the more people we can get to buy into this the better.”