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Pima County schools prepare for possible spread of omicron variant

Published: Nov. 29, 2021 at 10:32 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - The new omicron variant is causing concern for Pima County schools. At this point, much is still unknown about the variant and how to protect yourself, but health officials say it could be as dangerous as the delta variant.

The best protection is the vaccine, but school leaders are concerned that only a small portion of school-aged kids in the county are vaccinated.

“COVID has always done something. Right when you think it’s going to be OK, it goes the opposite direction,” Superintendent of Pima County Schools Dustin Williams said.

Kids returned to school this week following the holiday break and time spent with family, a bit of normalcy that many couldn’t have last year. But the new omicron variant could change that.

Williams says he is already speaking with the county health department about the variant and what needs to be done.

The most important thing: vaccinations and mitigation strategies.

″We want to keep these kids in school as much as we can, but when you have a pandemic and a virus as contagious as this, it’s really, really difficult. So we don’t like to hear this stuff, but we’re going to do what we can to make it through this,” he said.

Progress in vaccinating younger children is slow. The health department aimed to vaccinate 25,000 5 to 11-year-olds in Pima County by the end of November, but there has been some pushback on the vaccine front.

“It’s the parents’ rights to do what they want with their children and we’re going to respect everyone in that, but we want to see those numbers creep up,” Williams said.

There’s also concern about how COVID-19 and possibly the omicron variant will spread over the holidays with many families traveling. School COVID cases are expected to rise after kids return in January.

“You’re going to see what it’s like in the big social gatherings, like the holiday breaks. It’s influences outside of schools. It loves to spread when it’s in those close environments. So, that’s what we’ll look for going into this next year,” Williams said.

Vaccinated or not, health officials say mitigation strategies are needed to fend off the omicron variant. This means wearing a mask, social distancing when possible, and washing your hands.

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