Omicron Causing Chaotic Opening to 2022

January 12, 2022

Four students in classroom setting, with masks

The COVID-19 omicron variant’s rapid spread caused tumult for holiday travel and back to work preparations for many Americans. Confusion over masking recommendations, vaccinations, boosters and safety protocols caused additional frustrations. USC faculty and researchers provide their expert opinions on the novelty of omicron, how it is affecting all sectors of the population and the newest variant’s behavior. 

Contact: Paul McQuiston, (323) 527-7770 or


The true cost of daily disruption for K-12 schools

“The situation on the ground has changed so rapidly. Before the holidays, we were not even really talking about this. Now it’s completely blown up again and it’s apparent how the situation is affecting the well-being and mental health of families.

“On a day-to-day basis, parents are wondering whether their school will be open. For some, that’s not a problem. For many, it is. Parents have varying degrees of concern about their kids’ health and the health of other members of their family. Their child might catch COVID in school or bring it home.

“Still, we want kids physically in school, the maximum number of days possible, because in-school learning is just better than online learning. We have ample evidence of that, whether that means kids get a regular experience that day, or whether half the teachers or kids aren’t there.”

Morgan Polikoff is an associate professor of education at the USC Rossier School of Education.



The critical role of compassion in a time of plague

“Fatigue is the only word that makes sense. I don’t think that anybody expected another wave, a wave without end. It’s to acknowledge that this is occurring before the backdrop of a divided nation. That compounds stress exponentially.

“We all have a certain amount of emotional elasticity. When that’s pushed too far, you snap. Many people are exhausted. They’re living fully stretched. Give people grace to understand that whatever just set them off wouldn’t have set them off two years ago. When they are irritable, when they’re intolerant, when they seem to not be bringing their full game to work, what they’re telling you is they’ve had enough. It’s a plea for grace.”

Steven Siegel is professor of psychiatry and the behavioral sciences at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.



COVID reveals a need for better messaging, education to save lives

Jeffrey Klausner, a clinical professor of population and public health sciences at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, frequently comments on COVID in media outlets across the political spectrum. Because people no longer accept public health expertise at face value, he says, it’s time to deploy other tactics.

“People know the rules of football better than how their own immune systems work. The pandemic is a wake-up call that we must do a better job of educating the public regarding science, scientific methods and basic scientific principles. We have to adapt our communications to the current landscape.

“Working through local key opinion leaders, trusted community members, faith-based organizations and popular figures like sports stars and musicians can transverse the political and educational divide.”



Despite rapid spread, omicron markedly less severe

“It is not a surprise that the omicron variant is causing havoc—we know viruses change as they mutate which often causes different types of problems. Fortunately, we are very globally interconnected and we can learn from the experiences of other countries also affected by omicron. For instance, we know there is a peak in cases and then a very, very rapid decline. Additionally, it seems that the risk of damage to the lungs is not what it was in the past based on data from other continents. This variant of the virus seems to reside in the upper airway passages.

“We have to embrace all the tools we have —vaccinations, masking, testing, social distancing — and learn how to live with it.”

Neha Nanda, MD is a hospital epidemiologist at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.



Amplified spread yet less severe symptoms

“We don’t know for sure as the available data is all from the earlier variants but it is a reasonable assumption that increased spread is directly related to a change in the virus that translates to a change in symptoms.

“The larger the fraction of non-severe symptom patients, the longer these patients are in circulation and the more they spread the virus. This is in addition to the higher infectivity that directly relates to the changes in the spike protein. The latter is likely cause for easier infection of human cells and as a consequence of that an individual gets infected easier/faster and many more cells in the individual get infected faster to produce even more virus to infect the next person — it all amplifies.”

Peter Kuhn is the Dean’s Professor of biological sciences at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.


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