Omicron outbreak continues


Isabella del Nido

The new Omicron COVID-19 variant has caused an increase in cases on campus.

Arushi Sharma, Editor-in-Chief

New Omicron COVID-19 variant creates a surge in case numbers in Travis County

Cases were rising.

The classrooms were basically empty.

Several teachers and staff members were absent from school.

After winter break, students and staff expected to return to their normal school schedule, with COVID restrictions, but quickly learned that the new semester had not followed their assumptions. As the number of Omicron cases skyrockets, with over 3,000 cases in Austin per day, disruption of ‘normality’ continues to occur.

“My classes have been depleted because of Omicron,” English teacher Judd Pfeiffer said. “Most infected students are missing at least a full week. Trying to get so many students caught up is extremely challenging. Teachers are spending a great deal of time communicating with absent students and providing them with as many resources as possible.”

Senior Lizzie Jensen started her first day of the second semester scared for her health. She had never experienced anything like this before. Although she was fully vaccinated, boosted, and had been wearing her mask in public, Jensen tested positive for COVID-19’s Omicron variant a few days after New Year’s Day.

“A week before I got COVID-19, I found out that my lung capacity was below 60%, meaning that my lungs aren’t growing,” Jensen said. “My doctor had told me that if I were to catch an infectious disease like COVID-19 it would be a lot harder to deal with. Thankfully, because of the vaccine, my symptoms weren’t as bad as I had expected and I was able to come back to school after a week.”

In an article by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), getting sick with COVID-19 can offer some protection from future illness, or “natural immunity,” but the level of protection people get from having COVID-19 may vary depending on how mild or severe their illness was, the time since their infection, and their age.

“I’m not vaccinated, and I don’t plan on getting the vaccine in the foreseeable future,” senior Kaelie Douglass said. “I already have significant natural immunity from early August and I hold intervention treatments, or supplements such as Vitamin C, Vitamin D, and Zinc and fostering an overall healthy lifestyle as more effective methods in aiding my body’s ability to fight infection.”

Aside from several missing students, Bowie and other schools in the Austin Independent School

District (AISD) have been facing substitute teacher, bus driver, and custodian shortages. With the absence of staff, it has been difficult for the administration to keep the school running smoothly this semester, causing students to miss out on learning and working.

“We’ve been fortunate that not many teachers have needed to be out because of COVID compared to other schools in the district,” assistant principal Whitney Black said. “Ms. Brett has constantly been working to get people to cover classes because AISD doesn’t have enough substitute teachers to cover the whole district at the moment.”

In addition to AISD’s COVID-19 protocols, such as sanitizing the classrooms each day, screening and temperature checks, and mask mandates, AISD has created a ‘Contact Tracing’ system. The system works with assigned seating in each classroom to send out a notification to students and staff members when an individual who notifies the school tests positive for COVID-19.

“Contact tracing doesn’t assist in preventing the spread, because if someone tests positive, that means they might have already spread it to people because they were around people and carrying the virus before getting tested,” senior Austin Dalbey said. “They don’t need a school-issued notification that someone else is sick to know that they are sick.”

According to AISD, fully COVID-19-vaccinated people (two weeks after the second dose in a 2-dose series of Pfizer or Moderna or a single dose of Johnson & Johnson) per CDC guidelines will not need to quarantine if they come in close contact with someone who tests positive.

“I think that contact tracing is intended to be effective, but it’s very difficult to moderate tracing for so many students in such a big school,” math teacher Sophie Lloyd said. “I believe that Bowie’s trying its best to enforce as many rules to protect students and staff members, but maybe there could be something more effective.”

Despite Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order regarding masks in schools, AISD Superintendent Dr. Stephanie Elizalde has continued to require masks in all AISD buildings. While other school districts have made the mask policy optional as the school year continued, Elizalde has remained firm in her stance on masks.

“Bowie is going along with AISD’s illegal and useless mask mandate under the perception that masks prevent the spread of COVID-19 when there are multiple studies and just everyday observations that prove that all masks except a KN95 or N95 are essentially useless against Omicron,” Dalbey said. “People want mask mandates to stop the spread when treating this virus like the cold would give everyone natural immunity, and let the virus get weaker as it evolves and mutates. People supporting mask mandates either want people to be isolated and don’t want to go back to normal or are out of touch with the real statistics and numbers of COVID, especially Omicron.”

An article published by the Journal of the American Medical Association reviewed data from 10 previous studies that conclude mask-wearing substantially reduces spread. The article stated that wearing a cloth mask can reduce transmission of exhaled droplets from infected wearers into the air by 50 to 70 percent.

“The mask mandate is really important at school because while you may be a perfectly healthy person and not care at all about catching COVID-19, there are people at this school that really do care,” Jensen said. “You never know if someone else has an underlying condition or if they are living with someone who has underlying conditions, so wearing this piece of cloth over your face correctly while you’re in school, especially indoors, is the bare minimum. We’re all responsible for one another in being safe during this time.”

Recently, AISD, partnering with Concentric by Ginkgo, has created COVID-19 testing hubs all around Austin. All students and staff members have access to a free rapid antigen testing program with access to access rapid antigen or PCR tests. There are 11 testing sites around Austin and they’re open every Monday through Friday from 8 a.m to 2 p.m.

“I think that the number of positive COVID-19 cases will decrease because I think it will start to slow down the number of positives though because I think everybody’s going to get it at some point,” Black said. “It just spreads too easily, so eventually everyone’s going to have it and become immune eventually.”

With the continuous rise in cases and the uncertainty that COVID-19 brings, Pfeiffer emphasizes a call to action for all individuals to follow.

“We are all in this together, and we are all responsible for one another,” Pfeiffer said. “Help keep those around you safe. If you’re tired of living through COVID-19, help stop it. Get vaccinated. Get your boosters. Wear a mask.”