Health & Wellness

Omicron and Back-To-School: What You Need To Know

Sarah Foley - Kiira Student Health Contributor

The Omicron variant of COVID-19 spread like wildfire through the United States this winter, which has led to an increase in social distancing restrictions throughout the country. At its peak, the country was seeing more than 700,000 cases per day. 

Although cases are finally beginning to drop in many areas, the threat of Omicron still remains. Colleges and universities are returning from winter break, and keeping students healthy is paramount. Here are the most important care measures to implement as students return to in-person learning. 

Encourage Vaccination

Vaccines are the best tool we have to minimize severe COVID-19 cases. As you head back to school, encourage students who are not yet vaccinated to get their doses with on-campus vaccination sites and incentives. It’s also very important that students get their booster shots when eligible. Boosters provide much better protection against the Omnicron variant. 

Structure Classes For Distancing

Whenever possible, students should be physically distanced during their classes to minimize exposure.  This may mean restructuring your classes to accommodate this. For example, you may offer a rotating or hybrid model for some classes. With this option, some sessions are online while others are in-person, and in-person class sizes are kept small. When appropriate, schools can also make use of larger indoor and outdoor spaces like theaters and gymnasiums for classes to provide better physical distancing. 

Regular Testing

Regular testing is the best way to catch COVID-19 cases early on and minimize transmission. The earlier students are aware of their positive status, the sooner they can isolate and avoid exposing others. Testing should be available to all students, whether or not they are vaccinated. This can be via testing sites around campus as well as readily available at-home test kits. 

It’s also very important that students who test positive and are living in the dorms have a safe place to isolate. Schools can designate a block of single rooms specifically for isolation and offer food delivery for students who need to stay there. 

High-Quality Masks

Masks are another important tool for preventing COVID-19 transmission. In particular, N95 and KN95 masks are the most effective at filtering out the virus to keep students safe. Schools should encourage students to use these masks if they have them, but it’s also very important to provide masks for free on campus. This is because some students may not have the resources to purchase these masks on their own. Masks should be required in indoor common spaces like classrooms, dining halls, gyms, and more. 

Mental Health Support

This is a very stressful time for everyone, and those stressors are often heightened for students who are studying away from home. Make sure that students have access to mental health support while they are on campus. It’s also very important to make sure that students with disabilities have the accommodations they need to complete their classwork, especially if they are at high risk for the virus. 

Implementing these measures can help keep students safe as they return to classes. While there’s no way to completely contain the spread of COVID-19, these precautions will minimize transmission as much as possible so students can have a more normal learning experience.