Omicron‘s high transmissibility begins to affect students, faculty despite high vaccination rate

Written By Jake Dabkowski, Editor Elect

Within the past few weeks, Allegheny County has experienced a record-setting number of new COVID-19 cases. As of Monday, Jan. 17, the current seven day average was 3,238 cases, down slightly from last week’s seven day average of 3,433 cases.

Point Park is also facing a surge of cases, albeit a smaller surge than most due to the university’s high vaccination rate and mask mandate. A major contributing factor to this surge is the Omicron variant, which has a higher possibility of being transmitted to someone who is fully vaccinated.

“People that have been vaccinated and boosted may be exposed, their immune system may be primed, so they may not get it at all,” Doctor Laura Frost, a biological sciences professor, said. “That said, I was days away from going to get my booster and I got [COVID], so before classes started I was very sick. This Omicron variant is so highly transmissible from person to person, I think it’s likely that a whole lot of people are going to get it. Even if you’re very, very careful I think that sometimes you can’t even necessarily avoid it.”

Becca Velgich, a student who previously expressed to The Globe that the return to campus could have been safer had classes been online for the first two weeks, has since tested positive for COVID-19.

“I tested positive for COVID on Wednesday, so I only went to class Monday,” Velgich said. “So I emailed all of my professors on Tuesday saying that I contacted the Health Center because I had COVID symptoms and I was getting tested Wednesday., Therefore, I would not be in class and asked what I could do while home.”

Velgich went on to share frustration with the response from her professors and the university.

“I got one response back asking to see documentation that I was at the Health Center and when I come back to class we’ll talk,” Velgich said. “That was the only response I got back.”

Velgich was tested by the Health Center because she was symptomatic. Currently, the Health Center will only provide testing to students if they are symptomatic.

“In following guidance from our health partners at UPMC, we are continuing to only do symptomatic testing,” Louis Corsaro, Managing Director of University Marketing and Public Relations, said.

While Omicron is capable of being transmitted to people who are fully vaccinated, the infection has shown to be milder.
“I think the fact that Omicron is demonstrating to be less severe, I think that somehow in a lot of people’s minds justifies a sort of going on with life as normal as if there weren’t a pandemic about us.” “I think if Omicron were as severe as the Delta variant before it or the original Novel virus that made the spillover I’m sure attitudes would be a lot different.”

It is currently unsure what will happen as a result of this surge. Some are hopeful that natural immunity could be achieved, but experts are uncertain.

“I think it’s a possibility,” Frost said. “Like I said, this Omicron is so highly transmissible and for folks that haven’t been vaccinated they’re picking it up so easily. For folks that haven’t been vaccinated hopefully they establish that natural immunity for the course of what, god willing, will be a mild infection.”

Frost warns that if the virus mutates again and the infection is more severe, people may be wary to lock down again.

“I think people are exhausted… and if we wind up with a more severe variant that has a high fatality rate… there will be widespread reluctance to follow any mandates that might come from any government,” she said. “People will say to heck with it, you guys have had years to get this right and you haven’t. If we wind up with a more serious variant people will not follow any government mandates from any level of government. People are done.”