During the two years since the arrival of the United States’ first case of COVID-19, more than 857,000 Americans have died from the virus and over 68.5 million Americans have tested positive. Only 63% of American citizens are fully vaccinated, and only 25% of citizens are both fully vaccinated and have received a booster shot.
The main concern regarding the coronavirus as of late is the Omicron variant. First identified in South Africa, the variant has been observed to be much more transmissible but also less severe than other major COVID-19 variants, such as the Delta variant. Vaccines and booster shots are very effective at preventing hospitalization and death from the Omicron variant, both of which are already unlikely from this particular strain.
A week before this article was written, the number of new coronavirus cases globally rose by 20% to 18 million. However, this does demonstrate a decline in a global Omicron surge, as coronavirus cases rose by 50% the week before. Some of the smallest COVID-19 case increases were seen in the Americas, which is an encouraging sign for the United States.
Some scientists have recently stated that the United States may have already reached its peak in Omicron outbreaks, and that cases can be expected to decline in the coming weeks. In states such as Connecticut, Maryland, New Jersey, and New York, new coronavirus cases have already declined by more than 30% last week. In Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania, cases have declined by more than 10%. The amount of hospitalizations for COVID cases has also begun to show a decrease, especially in areas where the Omicron variant first arrived in the nation.
While there are positive signs that Omicron is retreating, it is also important to note that hospitals are still struggling to keep up with COVID cases, and 2,000 Americans are dying each day from the virus.
So, taking the current situation pertaining to the coronavirus into account, how should schools choose to operate in the midst of Omicron?
The data from recent weeks have signaled that the worst of the Omicron surge is over, and if not, then close to over. Therefore, it would be foolish for schools to switch to remote learning, considering that the trends suggest improvement in the Omicron situation.
In addition to the encouraging signs that the threat of the Omicron variant is subsiding, a switch to remote learning would not be ideal due to the negative effects that distance learning had on students during previous academic years.
Remote learning can harm students due to the increased amount of isolation and mental health issues which children and teens face during time away from school. Cases of depression, anxiety, and eating disorders increased in children during periods in which schools opted for remote learning, and students who were already experiencing challenges with their mental health prior to home-learning reported a decline in said health during quarantine.
The physical health of students was also compromised during the remote learning days of the pandemic. With students spending greater amounts of their time indoors and on screens, many children and teenagers experienced decreased amounts of exercise, which led to weight gain, headaches, sleep issues, and eye-straining. Studies show that remote learning also led to increased consumption of processed and unhealthy food, resulting in students eating foods of poor nutritional value.
Remote learning furthermore resulted in academic and teaching challenges. Many students fell behind in their academics due to at-home schooling, and teachers struggled to understand how much their students were learning from them. Some students struggled to manage their time effectively while learning at home, as the lack of structure that in-person school provides proved significantly detrimental to their academic routines.
A final— but very important— impact of switching to remote learning would be the loss of interpersonal connections between students. In a pandemic era that lacks normalcy and is consumed by increased amounts of stress, the ability for children and teenagers to socialize with each other face-to-face during class and extracurricular activities is of utmost importance. To take away those social connections would diminish the happiness of students, some of whom are already consumed with stress due to academics and their futures.
With the Omicron surge fading in the United States, it is not practical to switch to remote learning, especially considering the mild symptoms of the variant and the high efficacy of vaccines. The combination of Omicron’s decline and remote learning’s challenges for students suggests that the best option for schools and their students is to keep learning in person.
The Associated Press. “WHO counts 18 million virus cases last week as omicron slows.” ABC
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Leonhardt, David. “Omicron Is in RetreatL ‘What’s Next?’.” The New York Times, 19 Jan. 2022,
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/19/briefing/omicron-variant-cases.html. Accessed 20 Jan. 2022.
Sangal, Aditi, and Vogt, Adrienne. “The latest on the coronavirus pandemic and the Omicron
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Vanbuskirk, Sarah. “The Impact of Distance Learning on Kids.” Verywell Family, 10 Aug. 2021,
https://www.verywellfamily.com/the-impact-of-distance-learning-on-kids-5118430. Accessed 20 Jan. 2022.
“What You Need to Know About Variants.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 Dec. 2021, https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/variants/about-variants.html?CDC_AA_refVal=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cdc.gov%2Fcoronavirus%2F2019-ncov%2Fvariants%2Fvariant.html. Accessed 20 Jan. 2022.
About the Author:
Karenna Marnik is a sophomore student. Over the past year, Karenna has developed an interest in journalism and has even contributed to her school’s newspaper. Additionally, she is passionate about sailing, debate club, and participating in student leadership. Karenna also enjoys a lifestyle filled with exercise and the outdoors, particularly hiking.