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According to a report by NBC News, Omicron is reported to have been found within all 50 states this week per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.

As JMU ends the fall semester with low COVID-19 cases and high vaccination rates, it seems like a maskless future could be soon to follow in the spring semester. Students proved the effectiveness of masks and vaccines by maintaining low case numbers throughout the first semester’s return to in-person learning. However, though the school has the statistics to potentially allow for optional mask wearing in the spring, the Omicron variant poses a new threat to the world that should limit their haste.  

Omicron, a new coronavirus variant, has started to spread around the world, including in the U.S. According to a report by NBC News, Omicron is reported to have been found within all 50 states this week per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. The variant’s increasing presence in the U.S. has caused concern among virologists for a potential new surge in COVID-19 cases to come next year. Due to the limited knowledge about the threat of Omicron, there isn’t a solid conclusion as to what should be done to limit its spread. The CDC recommends that anyone who is vaccinated should receive their booster and maintain previous precautions against the coronavirus

The New York Times reported on the race for data on Omicron and answers about the new variant by virologists conducting research on it.

“Even as scientists race to understand more about the Omicron variant and the threat it poses, one fact is abundantly clear: It spreads quickly everywhere it lands,” the report states.

With Omicron’s ability to spread faster than the Delta variant, high areas of transmission, like universities, should prepare accordingly. 

Like other variants, the spread of Omicron can be limited by wearing masks and getting vaccinated. With the precautions the university has taken already like masking indoors and social distancing, the community shouldn’t be worried about the threat Omicron poses to the learning environment. JMU should continue to inform the public about its plans for the spring semester soon so students understand the expectations for operation under the continual pandemic, just like many other schools across the country. 

As students, we need to continue to promote a healthy, safe space by adhering to the university’s recommendations in order to limit the impact that Omicron could have on our future semesters. As of Dec. 28, JMU has yet to change their policy moving into the spring. Unlike other universities like U.Va. and Virginia Tech, boosters will not be required for returning students.

With limited information available, we shouldn’t dismiss the threats that scientists are warning the public about. Studies show that the rate of infection isn’t slowing, even in areas with high vaccination rates. European countries are home to some of the highest vaccination rates in the world, yet Omicron is hitting countries like Denmark and the U.K. hard.

In Denmark, three-fourths of Omicron cases are among individuals with two doses of the vaccine. Health officials in the U.K. suggest that “vaccine efficacy against symptomatic infection is substantially reduced against Omicron.” With this information, the U.S. should redeploy strategies used prior to vaccine rollouts, like mask mandates and social distancing.

This doesn’t mean we have to resort to lockdowns or online-only courses. JMU is fully equipped to maintain a healthy, safe environment in which COVID-19 rates stay low, but it’s imperative that students uphold the university’s expectations. 

We should continue to support the efforts of our professors by wearing masks indoors, keeping contact with others to a minimum and staying home whenever we start to feel sick. We need to do our best so that we don’t have to repeat March 2020. 

Contact Luke Pineda at pinedalm@dukes.jmu.edu. Luke is a junior political science major.