As I See It – Be vigilant, ready, the variants are coming…

Elpidio R. Estioko (Phpoto By FB)

When we were about to normalize things caused by the corona virus pandemic, the Delta variant from India came to the US. Every effort we have instituted were disrupted and have to be restructured to address the variant which has started to pose another threat to all the citizens. Addressing the Delta became a new normal… until another threat came – Omicron.

After a few months of overhauling and restructuring our already revised health program due to Delta, Omicron from Africa came… causing us again to make major adjustments. We need adjustments, readjustments and further adjustments to be able to keep the American people safe.

While Omicron may not be as deadly as that of Delta as claimed, science (common sense too) dictates we still need to exert extra efforts to address the new threat because it’s spreading so fast.

New York Times reported that the Omicron Variant appears to be spreading fast in Washington State. Researchers testing coronavirus samples in Washington State have recorded a rapid rise in cases with a mutation that is characteristic of the Omicron variant.

Researchers found that 13 percent of 217 positive coronavirus case specimens collected on Wednesday had the mutation. That was up from about 7 percent of samples they had tested from the day before, and 3 percent from the day before that — in a region that had its first identified cases only two weeks ago.

“It’s clearly looking like it’s rising really quickly,” said Dr. Pavitra Roychoudhury, a researcher at the University of Washington. Dr. Roychoudhury cautioned that the relatively small sample sizes provided only a limited window into the variant’s trajectory. But even so, she said, the results add to worries that Omicron may be highly transmissible.

As Omicron spreads around the globe, scientists have seen evidence that the variant can partially evade existing immune defenses. But they are still trying to determine how often the variant causes severe disease.

Dr. Trevor Bedford, who studies the spread and evolution of viruses at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, said the Omicron numbers are still too small to have a large impact on overall case numbers, but he said that would likely change by next week as it continues to displace the virulent Delta version of the virus. The variant is spreading progressively.

“There is an inevitable very large wave of Omicron,” Dr. Bedford said. “It’s going to happen.”

CNN (Adrienne Vlogt) reported that Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said “Omicron will likely become the dominant Covid-19 variant in the US,” when he spoke during a briefing at the White House in Washington, DC, on December 1.

Early data about the Omicron coronavirus variant presents “a very strong argument for people getting their boosters,” according to Dr. Fauci.

“Omicron is going to be a challenge because it spreads very rapidly, and the vaccines that we use — the regular two-dose mRNA — don’t do very well against infection itself. But particularly if you get the boost, it is pretty good,” Fauci told CNN.

As things developed, CNN’s Health reporter Naomi Thomas wrote that CDC’s definition of “fully vaccinated” is still evolving. The definition revolves around whether it should change from two shots to three shots, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, CDC director, said on NBC’s Today on Tuesday.

Walensky said: “What we know about variants is that the more mutations you have, the more immune boost you need in order to combat them, so that’s exactly why we’re saying this variant has a lot of mutations, we want to make sure that we have as much immune protection as possible,” when asked if the definition of fully vaccinated should be changed to include a booster shot.

She urged people to get the vaccine if they hadn’t yet, and if eligible for a booster shot, to “get that boost because you’ll have more protection.”

CDC has issued protocols to combat the pandemic and the federal government has intensified its vaccination efforts plus booster shots for those who are fully vaccinated. As per CDC approval, Pfizer started administering vaccines to children ages 5 to 11. So, we are moving towards covering all ages from children to seniors to be able to make sure the whole citizenry is safe from the pandemic.

The schools are mostly affected and they have to make major adjustments and flexibility in overcoming the pandemic, so students can continue in-person instructions which was believed to be more effective than online instructions.

With the passing of the infrastructure bill in Congress with $7.5 billion allocations for electric school buses plus added Covid funds, the issue of education alongside the pandemic will hopefully be resolved soon given these funding. These are resources within their disposal to combat the pandemic and rekindle quality instruction in the light of the pandemic.

The bill makes a major push to replace existing school buses with zero-emissions buses. Also, specific funding is set aside to help lower-income, rural and tribal communities to replace their bus fleets.

We have to understand that American school buses play a critical role in expanding access to education, but they are also a significant source of pollutionThe budget will deliver thousands of electric school buses nationwide, including in rural communities, helping school districts across the country buy clean, American-made, zero emission buses, and replace the yellow school bus fleet for the children of America.

Also, broadband internet is necessary for Americans to do their jobs, to participate equally in school learning, health care, and to stay connected, especially during the duration of the pandemic. But… more than 30 million Americans live in areas where there is no broadband infrastructure that provides minimally acceptable speeds. With the $65 billion investment, it will ensure every American’s access to reliable high-speed internet with a historic investment in broadband infrastructure deployment including in the rural areas.

The bill will also help lower prices for internet service by requiring funding recipients to offer a low-cost affordable plan. The connection with the internet and student access to online instructions should not be derailed by poor funding. This has to be resolved by the government which President Biden is trying to do.

The infrastructure funding would come in addition to nearly $200 billion that Congress has allocated for Covid-relief aid to public schools. In addition, the CARES Act signed into law in March 2021 appropriates a total of $30.7 billion for education (K-12 $13.2 and Higher Ed $14b) and another $82 billion for education for the Covid relief package signed into law in December 2020; and $168 billion for education in the American Rescue Plan (ARP) signed into law in March 2021.

Acting Assistant Secretary of Education Ian Rosenblum said in an interview with FutureEd said: “It’s an unprecedented level of funds because the needs are so great to ensure that we’re able to continue to reopen schools safely and maintain their safe operations and to address the social, emotional, mental health, and academic needs of students.”

Beyond the Covid relief package, the Biden Administration is proposing more than $100 billion for school facility repairs and construction in its nationwide infrastructure proposal.

Since education matters, the Covid-19 pandemic needs to be arrested soon to pave the way for a well-meaning in-person instruction uninterrupted by any virus such as the corona and its variants which are threatening the safety of our students!