Bringing in the New Year with a New Variant


Graphic by Mia White

Nicole Llanes and Daniel Morrison

Looking around class, there are empty seats and faces you haven’t seen for days. For some, these seats may take time to fill as there has been a recent increase in cases for the new and contagious Omicron variant.

   The first week back at Pembroke Pines Charter had 20% absences daily, and according to Mr.Bayer, “This is an increase from the usual 5% absences daily”. These absences were a mixture between both quarantine and absences for other reasons. On average, 86 students were absent daily the first week of January due to quarantine, as stated by Mr.Bayer.

   The new Omicron variant was first detected on November 24th in South Africa by scientists. Luckily, their Omicron wave has receded, whereas cases are increasing by the thousands in the United States daily (NPR). As of January 2, 2022 the daily cases are at 400 thousand, which is a 101% increase from the week before and a record high (Washington Post).  According to the CDC, Omicron is more contagious than the original SARS-CoV-2 virus. 

Along with this, the new variant can be spread to those vaccinated, even if the person with the virus is not experiencing symptoms. Senior Domenic Lacayo explained his experience with COVID over winter break, “On Christmas day my dad texted me he tested positive for COVID, even though he had no symptoms. A few days later almost everyone in the house had it, so I couldn’t really visit my dad for a few weeks to make sure the virus passed through. It was terrible not being able to see my dad for days but thankfully he’s okay”. This experience has been common for many students as the number of cases continues to grow.

   Currently, the vaccine is 35% resistant to omicron, and the booster can bring resistance up to 75% (CDC). In recent updates, those aged 12 and older can receive the Pfizer booster shot five months following their initial immunizations. 

   Fortunately, the most common symptoms of Omicron are mild. The top five symptoms are a runny nose, headache, fatigue, sneezing and a sore throat (CDC). With such common symptoms and both exposure and infection rates increasing, many have been rushing to get tested for peace of mind and out of an abundance of caution. Many testing sites have opened up across South Florida to meet the recent demand and are free of charge (Testing Sites). However, some testing lines are taking as long as 4 hours (Local 10 News). 

Along with this, there has been a shortage of at-home tests as many are buying in bulk. Senior Lily McCormick says, “I had symptoms for COVID right before school started, but I had to wait in line for 2 hours just to get tested. Once I had tested positive I quarantined at home but really couldn’t test again for a couple days. There weren’t any tests in stores, but luckily my friend lent me one of hers”. Thankfully, the FDA has assured that pharmacies will be restocked and tests will be available online.

   The CDC has also shortened quarantine time for those infected from the initial 10 days to only 5 days, followed by an additional 5 days of mask wearing for those who are asymptomatic. For those who are simply exposed, it is the same quarantine of 5 days followed by 5 days of mask wearing. 

   At home, it is no different. All the same protocols exercised before Winter Break are still in place: masks and social distancing are still strongly encouraged. What’s new is the school’s introduction of Covid testing for symptomatic Jags. “We recently began offering limited Covid testing on campus,” Ms. Shannon Torres says. But that’s not all. “The City of Pembroke Pines has opened a new testing site at the City Center with an expedited (sped up) line specifically for students and staff,” she elaborates. 

   This accessibility is especially important for students who have travelled abroad recently and are seeking reassurance surrounding their return to campus. Sophomore Valerie Glen is one of these students. After travelling out of the country, she anxiously awaited a negative Covid test. “I was honestly scared. If I was positive and missed a lot of school, it would be very hard to make up all that work,” she worried. But even after receiving her negative test, her apprehensiveness  did not subside.  

   Valerie is still nervous about being on campus. “Covid cases are rising and so many students aren’t wearing their masks,” she stresses. She has even thought about the possibility of returning to remote learning, something other Jags have contemplated too. “I don’t want Covid to keep worsening to the point where we don’t have a meaningful school year,” sophomore Milagros Ortega says. They both agree that a temporary period of online learning could help slow the spread of Covid.

   Other Jags disagree, believing remote schooling would not benefit students as a whole. Their reasoning follows the same logic that got rid of remote learning to begin with: the difficulty of learning, a decline in test scores, and a lack of social interaction. Junior Christopher Palomino summarizes these downsides saying, “Online school was just a pain. Between the vaccine and mask wearing, I feel I’m protected at school while being able to socialize.” 

   Whatever their stance, it is likely that students will remain in in-person instruction. “We are bound to follow the decisions from Broward County Public Schools (BCPS) when it comes to Covid school closures and opening…and BCPS is influenced by pressure at the state level,” Principal Bayer explains. And in Florida’s current political situation, schools are expected to remain open. 

   As always, it is vital to stay informed and be aware of the health guidelines in place. Like the daily announcements that resonate throughout campus say: please wear your mask and keep social distancing as best as you can.