Global concern over the spread of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus has made its way to American shores with the first case confirmed in California as the San Francisco and state health departments confirmed the first case on Wednesday. Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told reporters that the person is fully vaccinated and has mild symptoms that are “…improving at this point.” 

This variant of the coronavirus was first sequenced in South Africa, and subsequently the U.S. banned all travel from South Africa (and neighboring countries) and has maintained the bans despite scientists later discovering cases in Europe a week before the variant was discovered in South Africa.

During a media briefing earlier this week, U.S. President Joe Biden reassured the public that the Omicron variant wasn’t anything to worry about for now.

In a statement last week, the president said, “…For those not yet fully vaccinated: get vaccinated today. This includes both children and adults.”

For those vaccinated? “…The best way to strengthen your protection is to get a booster shot, as soon as you are eligible,” stated the president.

On Monday, the president told the public, “We’re throwing everything we have at this virus, tracking it from every angle…I’m sparing no effort, removing all roadblocks to keep the American people safe.”

Outgoing New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio expressed similar sentiments.

“…We’re going to emphasize as much vaccination in as many ways possible over the weeks ahead,” said the mayor during Wednesday’s media briefing. “And I hope this will motivate the folks who haven’t crossed the line now, because it’s the one thing—there’s one thing that matters most, it’s vaccination.”

Omicron could impact education significantly if it were to be more communicable or more deadly than other variants to date. According to the World Health Organization’s one-sheet update on the virus: “It is not yet clear whether Omicron is more transmissible (e.g., more easily spread from person to person) compared to other variants, including Delta. The number of people testing positive has risen in areas of South Africa affected by this variant, but epidemiologic studies are underway to understand if it is because of Omicron or other factors.”

Are parents scared? According to public school parent Tamika Hall, the DOE gives off mixed signals. 

“….I feel like we can’t rely on each other to be safe. We have to—each person has to be their own safety net, and so hoping that parents don’t send their kids with COVID because parents are still sending their kids with symptoms…to school. And so, we really have to be mindful that we can’t rely on other people for our safety.”

When asked if all parents and students should worry about the Omicron variant, the officials at the Department of Education remained steadfast in their ability to keep all who enter their facilities comfortable.

“Our schools are among the safest places to be during this pandemic due to our extensive, multi-layered approach to health and safety,” said DOE spokesperson Nathaniel Styer. “We are offering vaccinations at our schools, encouraging all families and eligible children to get vaccinated, and closely following the guidance of our public health experts.”

With millions of Americans still unvaccinated, the coronavirus can wreak havoc on the Black and Brown communities who make up most of the public housing. According to City Hall’s statistics, among all demographics, only 54% of Black New Yorkers have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and only 48% are fully vaccinated. Both numbers are the lowest in the city.

According to the NYU Furman Center, Black and Brown New Yorkers are 90% of all NYCHA residents.

While on the daily average, according to the city, COVID-related deaths and hospitalizations have decreased, the numbers of confirmed and probable cases have increased. The cold, combined with a lack of heat, (it was recently reported that Coney Island public housing residents did not have heat for six days and Lower East Side residents complained about inconsistent heat as well) combined with low vaccination numbers can be a recipe for disaster for NYCHA. A spokesperson said that it shouldn’t be the case at all.

“The health and safety of our residents has always been NYCHA’s highest priority throughout this pandemic, and the Authority has and will continue to follow guidance from the CDC, DOH and DOHMH to ensure our policies and procedures are thorough and responsive,” read the agency’s statement. “Any resident experiencing maintenance needs, including heat or hot water issues, should use the MyNychaApp or call the Customer Contact Center at 718-707-7771 to create a work order ticket.”

The day after speaking with the AmNews, NYCHA announced a partnership with Essence Development and The Related Companies with building and apartment upgrades for more than 2,054 apartments at Chelsea, Chelsea Addition, Elliott, and Fulton Houses in Manhattan.

Medical authorities are still suggesting that people who are already vaccinated get the booster shot and those who aren’t vaccinated join the party, but this hasn’t stopped the rumors and opposing theories. Those in the medical field are working to combat them and have been for months.

During a late August virtual conference called “Infodemic: A Stanford Conference on Social Media and COVID-19 Misinformation,” Vaccine Confidence Project at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine Founding Director Heidi Larson, Ph.D, according to Stanford Medicine, defined an infodemic as “…too much information—an abundance, an overabundance, of good and bad…But what is even more important than the sheer quantity of information is its dynamic, fast-moving and fast-changing nature—like epidemics, which spread quickly through populations. They are challenging when they are negative, but there is an opportunity that credible information and trusted voices can also have a viral nature.”

Italo Brown, MD, clinical assistant professor of emergency medicine at Stanford Medicine, stated at the conference that it’s up to the medical community to gain Black people’s trust given their history with doctors.

“Black communities have a lasting and lingering distrust of health care, of healthcare providers, and of the systems and institutions that have supported it,” Brown said. “Currently, we still see elements of mistreatment in the medical system. We can’t continue to gaslight communities of color around this topic.” 

While scientists are still working to understand the new variant, the New Year’s celebration in Times Square is right around the corner. Vaccination cards will be required to participate in the facilities. With a four-week gap between now and Jan. 1, the city, and the country as a whole, should know just how much impact the Omicron variant will have. 

New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams directed the AmNews to his Twitter page where he kept it simple. “New York can’t make the same mistakes with #Omicron as it did with #Delta or the original outbreak. It’s not the time for panic, but it’s the time for precaution,” he wrote. “1) The indoor mask advisory should be expanded statewide. 2) Vaccine mandates should require full vaccination, not 1 dose.”

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