Editorial: More to ongoing omicron spike than data

Published 12:00 am Sunday, January 16, 2022

It’s critical people think about the ongoing spike of COVID-19 cases caused by the omicron variant as more than cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

The move to remote learning at three Rowan-Salisbury schools, in particular, proves COVID-19 can disrupt lives of people who haven’t tested positive and/or are doing their part to stop the spread.

On Thursday, Rowan-Salisbury Schools closed buildings and moved to remote learning at Isenberg, Hurley and Knollwood elementary schools. The move was made “out of an abundance of caution” and because the number of absences made it hard for schools to operate safely, the district said. Could there have been more notice? Perhaps. Did it cause headaches for parents? Yes.

But schools shouldn’t avoid shuttering buildings if doing otherwise would cause health and safety concerns for staff and students. The classroom is the best place for students to learn, but people also shouldn’t be asked to work in person if they’re positive for COVID-19. It’s a potentially deadly communicable disease that can make vaccinated people too sick to work in addition to unvaccinated people. There’s a breaking point at which it’s just not possible to carry on with business as usual.

If they haven’t already, businesses and nonprofits that can’t operate with workers at home will face similar decisions as the omicron variant raises daily cases to new levels.

On Thursday alone, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services reported about 45,000 new cases — roughly the combined population of Salisbury and two or three other towns in the county. It was a new record for the state. It also doesn’t include anyone who may have used an at-home test.

Hundreds of new cases per day are being reported in Rowan County, which is also setting new records. The number of cases reported in the previous two weeks, about 3,500, is just a couple hundred more than the population of Spencer.

Meanwhile, hospitals are already making calls about whether to delay operations amid surging case loads and staff shortages because of COVID-19 or open positions. The procedures may be optional, but delaying them may only make conditions worse when they’re rescheduled.

The Salisbury VA is among hospitals making those types of calls, announcing last week that it would curtail non-emergency procedures and activate a plan to handle more acute care patients. The latest variant has put a strain on resources, particularly available staff, said Salisbury VA Chief of Staff Randall Gehle.

“We’ve dealt with a high patient census before and have experience implementing a surge plan, but as we shift resources to acute care, it does affect other services,” he said.

It’s not only important to stop the spread to prevent people from becoming hospitalized or dying — though, those are good-enough reasons. It’s important to follow commonsense measures to stop the spread so schools and businesses don’t have to close their doors for days at a time and hospitals don’t have to delay otherwise important procedures. People have long ago made up their minds about whether to get vaccinated, but it’s worth examining personal and businesses practices to see whether they’re slowing or contributing to the spread of the virus.

As that happens, reinstating a mask mandate in Rowan-Salisbury Schools is a prudent step toward slowing the spread. North Carolina and Rowan County could see cases decline in a week or two, but both also could be in the middle of a longer spike.