By Morgan Miles, Staff Writer
The COVID-19 variant Omicron has reached the Cincinnati area, driving schools to adjust to rising exposures, infections and deaths. The Hamilton County Board of Commissioners has officially declared a state of emergency due to rising cases.
Omicron has less severe symptoms than the Delta variant. However, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that the Omicron variant could be just as easily transmissible as the Delta variant.
In the Cincinnati area, Omicron’s transmission rates reflect the CDC’s concerns about the variant’s rapid spread. This led commissioners to declare the 60-day state of emergency in the county. The declaration will allow the county to buy rapid tests in bulk.
“Hospitalizations are at a record high,” Greg Kesterman, Health Commissioner for Hamilton County Public Health, warned. Kesterman also reported that death rates in the county have climbed since the summer and could continue to increase.
Alongside overwhelmed hospitals, schools and universities in the area are struggling to make decisions about how to handle the pandemic.
Two schools in Cincinnati experiencing pandemic-centered decisions are the Language Enrichment and Academic Proficiency (LEAP) and Academy of World Languages (AWL).
Just as the new year began, Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) switched LEAP and AWL to temporary remote learning.
As decisions regarding learning are made on a case-by-case basis for each school, parents and students face the brunt of Omicron’s impact on both their academic and personal lives.
“It’s a little triggering,” Monica Betomakita, a CPS parent, said. She explained that the sudden shift to remote learning has impacted the mental health of her children.
Universities are also at risk. The University of Cincinnati (UC) has transitioned to remote learning with plans to return in person on Jan. 24. COVID-19 screening tests are conducted at UC for all students who choose to return to campus before the transition back.
UC has also created a remote space where crucial activities such as labs and performances can be continued. In a letter from the university, remote learning was deemed a preventative measure to combat Omicron’s high transmissibility, as well as a way to assess the variant’s impact on the school’s population.
“We want to ensure that, when we come back, we come back to a safer, healthier and fully vibrant face-to-face experience,” the letter says.
Northern Kentucky University (NKU) has delayed classes due to the rise in transmission rates and the number of COVID-19 infections.
Ashish Vaidya, NKU’s president, plans to adjust the schedule of exams and summer classes to make up for the delay. Vaidya also advocates for utilizing hybrid teaching as much as possible.
Vaidya expects Omicron-related spikes to fall by the end of the month. For now, NKU’s president wants to focus on the region’s current data showing record infections, most notably the regional transmission rate. At its height, the transmission rate rose to 1.3%.
The Omicron variant also affected Hamilton County public libraries, which will be operating for fewer hours each day. The libraries will operate from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Currently, there are over 10,000 active cases of COVID-19 in Cincinnati.