Students and faculty at Montclair State University shared their concerns over the new Omicron coronavirus (COVID-19) variant.
Stephanie Silvera, a public health professor specializing in epidemiology, explained how new variants of COVID-19, such as Delta and Omicron, emerge.
“New variants emerge when the virus has the chance to replicate in a host and there is a genetic alteration to the virus,” Silvera said. “Most mutations are harmless, but some, like the ones seen with Delta and Omicron, can change how the virus behaves, either making it more transmissible, able to evade host immunity (either natural or vaccine-mediated), cause more severe illness or some combination of the three.”
Silvera said the Omicron variant is concerning.
“Early data indicate that Omicron is more efficient in terms of transmission and is outpacing Delta,” Silvera said. “This indicates that it is likely much more transmissible, which could cause cases to dramatically increase. Even if it is not more severe, more people sick overall means more people in the hospital, which we want to avoid.”
Silvera also shared her prediction of how the variant can affect campus life.
“If cases begin to surge again, not just on campus, but also in the surrounding communities, we could see a return to remote learning, which I think most of us would like to avoid if possible,” Silvera said.
Dr. Dawn Soufleris, the vice president for student development and campus life, said she does not see the university returning to remote learning.
“We have done all of what we’ve done, masks included and everything else, to keep our university open and functioning as much as possible in person, and so that will continue to be our priority unless something dramatically changes,” Soufleris said.
Montclair State president Jonathan Koppell said the university is monitoring the Omicron variant.
“There’s always something new around the corner, and [COVID-19] is sort of part of the environment now, [so] there’s going to be these variants,” Koppell said. “And so, I think caution is the better approach here on these things.”
Sophia Esheileh, a junior business administration major, was surprised to learn about the variant.
“My reaction to the COVID-19 variant is that I’m shocked that with many getting vaccines, the virus is still spreading to this day,” Esheileh said.
Megan Kick, a junior English major, expressed her worries over the Omicron variant.
“The new [COVID-19] variant is definitely frightening, and it is disheartening to see the ongoing mutations and spreading of this virus,” Kick said. “I am concerned because each new variant seems to be more alarming than the last, and I would hate to see all of the progress that has been made through vaccinations, mask-wearing and distancing be lost.”
Kick also said the timing of this new variant is troubling.
“It is also very nerve-racking to see such a spike around the holidays and wintertime when a lot of people are already more susceptible to becoming sick due to travel and changes in temperatures,” Kick said. “My hope is that everyone takes all the precautions necessary right now to keep ourselves and those around us safe.”
Silvera shared the best ways to slow the spread of the Omicron variant.
“If you haven’t been vaccinated, go get vaccinated,” Silvera said. “If you have been vaccinated and it has been six months since your final dose, get a booster. Beyond that, this is the time to recommit to proper mask-wearing.”