Omicron spreads at rate ‘not seen with any previous variant’ as Santa Clara County detects first case

The+vaccination+site+at+Santa+Clara+County+Fairgrounds+administers+COVID-19+vaccine+and+booster+shots+on+Tuesday.+The+omicron+variant+is+spreading+at+a+rapid+rate+across+the+U.S.+as+Santa+Clara+County+reported+its+first+case+last+Thursday%2C+with+the+variant+estimated+to+constitute+three+percent+of+all+COVID-19+cases+nationwide+as+of+yesterday.

Alysa Suleiman

The vaccination site at Santa Clara County Fairgrounds administers COVID-19 vaccine and booster shots on Tuesday. The omicron variant is spreading at a rapid rate across the U.S. as Santa Clara County reported its first case last Thursday, with the variant estimated to constitute three percent of all COVID-19 cases nationwide as of yesterday.

by Isha Moorjani and Sabrina Zhu

This article has been updated on Dec. 17, 2021, to reflect COVID-19 updates sent by Head of School Brian Yager. 

The omicron variant is spreading at a rapid rate across the U.S. as Santa Clara County reported its first case last Thursday, with the variant estimated to constitute three percent of all COVID-19 cases nationwide as of yesterday.

Omicron has spread to at least 36 states, according to a press briefing with the White House COVID-19 response team and health officials yesterday, and to more than 77 countries as of Tuesday. The CDC expects for the omicron variant to have a higher transmission rate than SARS-CoV-2, and the severity of COVID-19 cases caused by omicron remains unknown. 

Omicron is spreading at a rate we have not seen with any previous variant,” World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a video statement on Tuesday.

Last Wednesday, Pfizer-BioNTech released preliminary results about how their vaccine defends against omicron; they found two doses “may not be sufficient” but that a third dose, or a booster shot, would greatly increase efficacy. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone 16 years or older receive a booster shot.

We have the tools to fight this virus, including Omicron. And we’re in a very different and stronger place than we were a year ago. And there’s no need to lock down.”

— White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Jeff Zients

“I’m hoping that people will continue to follow the same precautions such as wearing masks and staying socially distanced and everything,” said Reshma Kosaraju (10), a member of Medical Club’s transition team, which is the club’s officer team in-training. “What we’ve been doing in the past…it’s been shown that it’s effective, so [we should] continue doing the same thing to make sure that we keep the case count as low as possible.”

In the White House press briefing yesterday, White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Jeff Zients said that the U.S. would not shut down its economy “in any way” and that schools and businesses will remain open. 

“We have the tools to fight this virus, including Omicron,” Zients said. “And we’re in a very different and stronger place than we were a year ago. And there’s no need to lock down.”

The omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 was discovered in South Africa on Nov. 11 and named a Variant of Concern by the World Health Organization (WHO) on Nov. 26. COVID-19 variants originate through mutations, and mutations like those in omicron can improve the transmission power of an already contagious disease.

All four Harker campuses will continue under the same campus guidelines starting on Tuesday, Jan. 18, after the Martin Luther King weekend, according to Head of School Brian Yager in an email sent out to the Harker community on Friday, Dec. 17. Current guidelines include wearing masks indoors, not permitting eating or drinking indoors and weekly testing for unvaccinated students.

“We will continue to assess conditions around us and follow state and county guidelines, and we will make adjustments as necessary when we return from the holiday,” Yager said in the email.

An antigen self-test kit. All students were provided with a take-home kit before the winter break. (Alysa Suleiman)

According to Yager, Director of Health Services Debra Nott and other Harker healthcare members have distributed antigen test kits to all students and some staff members to take home over the winter break before returning to school on Jan. 4. 

“Our Harker community is very well-informed and takes responsibility, not only for themselves but also for the community at large,” upper school science department chair Anita Chetty said. “Harker has been very, very responsible and mindful of how transmission occurs, has done everything by the book and will continue to do that.”

To schedule a COVID-19 vaccine or booster shot appointment in Santa Clara County, visit https://vax.sccgov.org/. To read more on CDC guidance with regards to the omicron variant, click here.

Additional reporting by Lucy Ge and Alysa Suleiman.