Q&A with Anita Hawkins: What to know about the Omicron variant

Discover the top things to know about the emerging Omicron variant in a question and answer session with Anita Hawkins, associate dean of the School of Community Health and Policy.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

A chart provided by the CDC of Omicron cases across the country as of Dec. 8 around 3 p.m. E.T.

Nia Lillard, Staff Writer

Another variant of COVID-19 has posed a threat on getting to the end of the global pandemic. 

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC,) the new Omicron variant was detected in Botswana on Nov. 11 and has spread to 57 countries in just four weeks.

On Nov. 26, The World Health Organization (WHO) classified the variant as a variant of concern (VOC.)

Variants are classified as VOC when there is evidence of increased transmissibility, risk of severe disease, decreased treatment and vaccine effectiveness, diagnostic detection failures and more.

However, the CDC is still trying to determine how easily the Omicron variant spreads and how well vaccines and treatments work against it.

Within the next week, the first confirmed case of Omicron was identified in the United States. While the first case in the U.S. was found in California, the variant continues to spread across the country in a short period of time.

The CDC has utilized genomic surveillance to track where Omicron has made a presence in the U.S. As of Dec. 8, 20 states have confirmed at least one case of the Omicron variant. 

On Dec. 3, Governor Larry Hogan announced there were 3 confirmed cases of the Omicron variant in Maryland. All of the cases were detected in the Baltimore area. 

Two of the cases are from one household with one individual that recently traveled to South Africa. The third case is unrelated to the others. Two of the cases were of vaccinated individuals.

In an interview with the Spokesman, Anita Hawkins, associate dean of the School of Community Health and Policy, answered commonly asked questions about the variant and how it could affect campus life at Morgan State University.

What else do we know about the Omicron variant?

Hawkins explained the variant’s high transmission rates, but said Omicron is not as dangerous as the widely known Delta variant. 

As the variant is easily transmissible, it poses a larger threat to the unvaccinated.

“When less people are vaccinated, it allows for the virus to mutate more within unvaccinated people,” Hawkins explained. 

Hawkins expressed that she has been following guidelines within the CDC and Baltimore City Health Department.

Should students be concerned about Omicron and if it will affect campus life?

Hawkins explained the school’s direct action on the variant is dependent on what happens preceding the winter break and the impact Omicron has on Baltimore City. 

“It’s too early to make definitive statements on Omicron,” Hawkins said, “At this point, there is no major change. We still should be masking and staying away from large crowds, particularly in areas that have low vaccination rates.” 

Do you feel like there should be more concern about the variant from students?

Hawkins said, “There’s going to be students who will say they’ve made it this far and nothing’s happened, so why be afraid. And then there’s going to be students who are extremely concerned.” 

Overall, Hawkins encouraged everyone to get vaccinated against COVID-19. While the COVID-19 vaccine does not fully prevent you from contracting it, it considerably gives “added protection,” she said. 

Hawkins used an umbrella in the rain analogy when referring to vaccine protection. 

“If you are to use an umbrella in the rain, you might get a little wet; but if you go outside with no umbrella, you will get soaked,” Hawkins said. 

What can we do to prevent the spread?

Hawkins encourages students and faculty to get vaccinated, if not so already, and to receive the COVID-19 booster shot.

“Vaccines were required for the entire school year, not just this semester,” Hawkins said. “For an mRNA vaccine, having three sequential doses is the desire to minimize the negative impact.” 

According to Hawkins, a decision to require the COVID-19 booster shot has not been made.

The university still requires students and staff to get vaccinated unless they provide a medical or religious exemption.

Those who are unvaccinated are required to test for COVID-19 twice every week. On-campus COVID-19 testing is available to all individuals on campus. 

Testing is still available on Monday and Thursday from 9 a.m. to 3:10 p.m. at Montebello. To schedule a COVID-19 test, visit the University health portal.