By Mike Flunker, Editor-in-Chief
Omicron is officially my least favorite variant.
We’re nearly two years into the pandemic. When this all began, I quite honestly thought I would never get it. Then again, that was when a lot of us thought this was going to be over by the summer of 2020.
I did end up falling ill with COVID-19. In January, the CDC reported as many as 800,000 daily cases in the United States. That’s more than the entire population of Alaska. High case numbers across the country were associated with the omicron variant which arrived in the United States in December 2021.
Alaska also experienced a spike in cases due to omicron. According to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, there were 1,870 new cases between Feb. 9-10. On Feb. 11, the state reported a total of 224,461 cases since the start of the pandemic in March 2020.
“Globally, we have a problem in that the virus is replicating so fast,” Vice Chancellor for Administration Michael Ciri said in an interview with Whalesong staff.
Ciri said that as long as the virus is circulating around the globe, more mutations and more variants will continue to show up, making fighting the pandemic an ongoing struggle. He is the UAS COVID Incident Commander.
We’re still in a pandemic, characterized by the rapid global spread and mutation of COVID-19. This may not always seem apparent in Juneau, where the total vaccination rate sits around 80%. Between January and July 2021, there were no reported cases on the UAS Juneau campus. This changed with the rise of the omicron variant.
“Omicron is everywhere,” Ciri said.
This variant is more transmissible than both the original virus and the delta variant, but causes less severe disease among most patients, according to the CDC. Ciri cited community mandates and a generally high vaccination rate for reasons why Southeast Alaska communities haven’t seen numbers as high as the rest of the state.
As of Feb. 9, UAS had 91 reported cases on the Juneau campus since the start of the pandemic in March 2020. This number includes all employees working in person and residents living on campus. It does not include distance-education students or staff and faculty working from home.
Despite the initial rise in case numbers this year, Ciri said it is unlikely that campus will close again due to omicron. This is due in part to the high vaccination rate on campus, and also to the student response to COVID-19 prevention measures.
“The students were great. And because of that I can be confident that the students are going to be our partners, not our opposition, in keeping this under control,” Ciri said.
UAS students have had to adjust a lot throughout this pandemic. Shifting CDC guidance and changing local conditions have meant that UAS needs to be on top of things. Dean of Arts and Sciences Carin Silkaitis is a member of the UAS COVID-19 Response Team.
“The whole COVID team, we weigh things holistically instead of making snap decisions,” Silkaitis said.
One of the decisions made recently was sticking with a 10-day isolation period for positive cases. On Dec. 27, 2021 the CDC released strategies on how a 5-day isolation could work in certain cases, but several of them, like wearing a mask even in your own residence, can’t be enforced at UAS. Silkaitis said that when they were ill with COVID-19 in early January, they were not feeling well enough to return to work 5 days into isolation. I can report the same for my own stay in isolation.
Both Silkaitis and Ciri agree that the key thing UAS can do is staying clear and consistent in messaging and guidelines concerning COVID-19. While the future is uncertain, you can rest easier knowing that UAS is staying up to date on what works for our community.