The student news site of The Harker School.

Harker Aquila

The student news site of The Harker School.

Harker Aquila

The student news site of The Harker School.

Harker Aquila

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Keeping up with COVID-19

Unpacking the aftermath of the pandemic ups understanding of public health
COVID-19+continues+to+mutate+into+new+variants+like+the+most+recent+JN.1+strain+and+remains+especially+active+during+the+respiratory+virus+season+from+fall+to+winter.+Updated+vaccines+by+Pfizer-BioNTech%2C+Moderna%2C+and+Novavax+that+came+out+in+fall+2023+are+effective+against+newer+variants%2C+and+CDC+safety+precautions+have+largely+stayed+the+same+since+last+year.+
Elizabeth Zhang
COVID-19 continues to mutate into new variants like the most recent JN.1 strain and remains especially active during the respiratory virus season from fall to winter. Updated vaccines by Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Novavax that came out in fall 2023 are effective against newer variants, and CDC safety precautions have largely stayed the same since last year.

As we slog through another respiratory virus season, COVID-19 is no longer the main topic of discussion. Instead, the nation seems to have collectively moved on, despite the dangers the virus still poses. So what’s new with COVID-19? And should we be more cautious?

COVID-19 continues to mutate into new variants like the most recent JN.1 strain and remains especially active during the respiratory virus season from fall to winter. Updated vaccines by Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Novavax that came out in fall 2023 are effective against newer variants, and CDC safety precautions have largely stayed the same since last year. Biology teacher Mike Pistacchi commented on the changing attitudes toward COVID-19.

“It’s still problematic in the sense that hospitalizations are up,” Pistacchi said. “People do die from COVID-19. Is it a problem to the point where we need to keep living differently because of it? That’s starting to come down more to personal opinion. Which precautions you take are largely gonna be biased by your personal health situation and your family health situation.”

The California Department of Public Health removed the standard five-day isolation period from its COVID-19 guidelines early this January, shifting to symptom-based quarantine after the first 24 hours of infection. While COVID-19’s presence at the upper school has remained low relative to the past two years, nurse Jennifer Olson noted the implications of this new policy.

“The new guidelines blend what we normally had pre-COVID for any sort of respiratory virus with the measures that came with COVID,” Olson said. “But it’s an interesting time for the guidance to change now as far as the seasons go. So I think while we all suspected this would happen, maybe we didn’t expect it [to happen] this soon.”

Since the COVID-19 public health emergency ended in May 2023, test kits and medicines have transitioned to the commercial market. Paxlovid, an at-home oral medication that treats high-risk COVID cases in adults, started accepting commercial orders last November at nearly $1,400 per treatment course, triple the price at which it was sold to the U.S. government. 

Consumers will need to rely on their own insurance to access COVID-19 resources once federal stockpiles run out. Harker Public Health Club co-president Fiona Yan (12) believes that diminishing access to these tools may discourage the public from maintaining proper precautions against disease.

“A lot of these things aren’t free anymore, which could be part of the reason why less people are getting treatment and taking measures to prevent the disease,” Fiona said. “People also aren’t taking things like new variants as seriously because they come back every year now, and everyone’s tired of them. But that could change the way and extent to which COVID spreads.”

COVID-19 cases in San Jose exceed their levels from a year ago in January 2022, but the impact of the virus fluctuates with more than just the number of cases. Physics and research teacher Chris Spenner discussed why recent COVID-19 variants have evolved to become less deadly than the original strain. 

We tend to ignore things like long flu in people who already have health problems: coronavirus landed on a lot of healthy people who are now saying, two years later, they still have these problems. Now it’s caught our attention

— Mike Pistacchi

“From an evolutionary standpoint, there’s an advantage for the virus to become less deadly,” Spenner said. “Killing off the host doesn’t help the virus. It just needs to be able to transmit and then it’s done with the host. It has become less deadly, but that is somewhat illusory because to some degree, it has already killed off so many people who were susceptible.”

Scientists continue to discover new aspects of COVID-19, including a phenomenon called long COVID, which inflicts people with symptoms like fatigue, fever and difficulty sleeping for months or even years after they recover from the original virus. A recent study suggests that in patients with long COVID, part of the immune system remains active after the virus dies, leading to persistent symptoms. Pistacchi shared his thoughts on long COVID and other long viral diseases.

“It’s certainly real, and we’re learning a lot about what viruses do with your body,” Pistacchi said. “There are also, however, long versions of many viral diseases. And we’ve largely ignored that until COVID hit so many people so hard. We tend to ignore things like long flu in people who already have health problems: coronavirus landed on a lot of healthy people who are now saying, two years later, they still have these problems. Now it’s caught our attention.”

People who are not vaccinated, have severe COVID-19 or have other health issues are more at risk of long COVID. Spenner hopes that a better understanding of COVID-19 will allow more people to make healthy decisions.

“I wish that we had a lot more discussions publicly, both as a school and a society, about good practices for watching out for each other,” Spenner said. “Because when the public health is not doing well, that puts us and people who we care about at risk. So we have a selfish interest in watching out for other people’s health and tracking and correcting behaviors, especially at a school. It’s all about education.”

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About the Contributors
Mendy Mao, Reporter
Mendy Mao (10) is a reporter for Harker Aquila, and this is her second year on staff. This year, Mendy wishes to improve her interviewing skills. In her free time, she likes to read short stories and play the violin.
Jeremy Peng, Reporter
Jeremy Peng (11) is a reporter for Harker Aquila, and this is his second year on staff. This year, Jeremy wants to refine his understanding of journalistic writing and explore elements of journalism beyond the written word. In his spare time, he enjoys listening to music and reading 19th and 20th-century novels.

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