BY PRESTON BURROWS
With students’ return to campus for the spring semester, COVID-19 is still a concern with the newest variant – Omicron. This variant of the virus has been detected in most states since it was first identified on November 11, 2021 in Botswana, Africa.
The problem of the spread of Omicron seemed to have a particular impact on Hays public school districts this month as they reached a level 5 mitigation strategy that stated, “Districtwide Mask Mandate – close contacts will be notified.”
This is determined by the number of active cases that the schools have, meaning USD 489 had to have 50 or more active cases for level 5 to be put in place.
Hays High School Para, Lauren Schriner says that the schools will reassess the active COVID numbers to see if they need to step up or down a level every week.
“Our numbers definitely skyrocketed for COVID and the flu right after Christmas, but I would say now I only see a few kids out for it,” Schriner said.
She said she hopes the mask mandate would be recalled because of the level of dislike from students and teachers having to enforce it.
As of this week, Schriner got her wish, as the USD 489 school district has changed their policy on COVID-19 and Influenza, replacing the levels system that was used the week prior. This policy change removes the mandate of masks by everyone in the school district unless they test positive for COVID and return from their five-day quarantine.
Similar to the USD 489 school district policy, masks are still optional on the Fort Hays State University campus.
According to the Fort Hays Health and Wellness administered testing results, as of January 25, 40 people were tested and 13 tests came back positive. This is an increase with the total number of positive cases recorded by the Health Center coming in at only three within the last three weeks of 2021’s fall semester.
Assistant Director of Health and Wellness Center William Stutterhei, said that people should not worry about this increase, but they should start thinking about what they need to do to keep themselves safe.
The assistant director listed some best practices for individuals to follow to steer them away from the Omicron variant.
“If they haven’t gotten their booster, that is the best place to start with keeping themselves safe. Make sure to use good hygiene practices and wash your hands. If you are not feeling well, wear a mask to ensure that we can limit the spread of the virus,” Stutterheim said.
Stutterheim also said that if an individual tests positive it would require a student to quarantine for five days. If symptoms of the virus are gone or fading, he says it is essential that they continue to wear a mask when around others for another five days.
“While isolation can be an inconvenience and everyone is feeling the fatigue of dealing with a new COVID variant it is our best way to keep others and our campus safe,” Sutterheim said, adding that it is important, so there is a spring semester that allows the college experience.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are still investigating the Omicron variant; however, they believe that this variant will spread more easily than the original SARS-CoV-2, but they are still unsure of how it compares to the Delta variant. This variant still has the characteristics of the previous variants as anyone can spread Omicron even if they are vaccinated and do not show any symptoms.
Since this variant is relatively new, the CDC does not have information on its severity and how well the vaccines work against it.
FHSU education major, Katie Crawford says that COVID hasn’t affected her directly this semester but she is reminded how present COVID-19 is and how it most likely won’t change in the near future.
Crawford believes that the mask mandate has a chance of changing if the COVID-19 cases continue to rise.
“A lot of teachers make the decision to have their own mask mandates in their classrooms,” Crawford said, pointing to people taking their precautions even if it is not an official requirement to do so.
Free testing centers are available throughout Hays and you can find more information about these centers HERE.
FHSU students who have questions about being treated for COVID-19 on campus can call the Student Health and Wellness at (785) 628-4401.