COVID-19 update: Omicron and staff shortages

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Students in Chinese class shown wearing masks and social distancing.

Daniel Farrow, Staff Reporter

206 LISD staff have tested positive for COVID-19 as of January 4th. 96 of those cases were teachers, and along with a shortage of substitute teachers, the district is under a lot of stress. According to a CBS Austin article, LISD spokesperson, Corey Ryan, stated that the substitute fill rate was around 55%. With more teachers falling sick every day, the next few weeks will be a difficult time for LISD. This begs the question: how will we respond? An idea that’s been around since early 2020 seems to be the direction other countries may be leaning, herd immunity.

Many of these absences are suspected to be the fault of the highly infectious Omicron variant. However, Omicron’s 0.2% death rate is a far cry from the Delta variant’s, which stood at 29.1%. Knowing this, the Wall Street Journal, Times of Israel, and even the New York Times have suggested that herd immunity is a positive possibility for Omicron. Overseas in Israel, experts are actually hoping that the high infection rate can jumpstart the transition back to normal life. Prof. Salman Zarka, the head of Coronavirus response in Israel stated that herd immunity is necessary whether through infection or vaccination, though the long term protection from both options is uncertain.

Herd immunity is not a new concept either. In the early days of the pandemic it was a common rebuttal to the lockdowns. At that time the death rate was too high for herd immunity to be implemented as a safe idea. Now, however, may be the time. Knowing this, how will LISD respond? Teachers can’t come to school sick no matter what, even pre-pandemic. The teacher shortage in the coming weeks will likely show us a repeat of our virtual 2020-2021 school year. The good news is that not only will our virtual stint be shorter, we can come back confident in our immune systems and hopefully get rid of the use of masks and social distancing in classes.

Today, January 6th, 2022 marks day 664 since the initial shutdowns on March 13th of 2020. While we may be forced to go virtual again, we as a district can expect to come back stronger and safer than ever. Omicron and herd immunity may be our first real and effective way to finally slow the spread.