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Cutting out COVID-19 in 2024

Faith A. Torres
Benjamin Reyes relaxes on the steps of the Union taking a breather before the Spring semester.

December is a highly anticipated month in many communities as it allows people to gather with friends and family to maintain cultural traditions, recount the year and partake in seasonal festivities. With the holidays ending and the warmth of celebration wearing off, though, the country is noticing a significant spike in COVID-19 cases following the week of Christmas alone.   

To help keep the public informed, here are some statistics and advice from medical professionals as well as best practices to keep individuals safe and healthy.  

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), hospitalizations in the U.S. spiked 20.4 percent within the last week of December. These numbers are combined with a 12.5% percent increase in deaths throughout the country, with COVID-19 deaths making up 3.6% percent of the total deaths. This is the largest wave of the virus to hit the population since omicron, the dominant variant now being JN.1.  

“The original omicron variant is gone now,” said infectious disease expert, Dr. Mark Rupp in a Nebraska Medicine article.  

The U.S. is also facing what some would call a “tripledemic.” Alongside JN. 1, healthcare providers are warning people of other respiratory illnesses like the flu or respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), as the country has seen an increase in these cases as well. Some doctors are directly advising the public to maintain vaccination statuses to prevent any risks or symptoms.  

“It’s going to be a severe respiratory virus season,” said infectious disease specialist and associate director of Hospital Epidemiology at Cedars Sinai, Dr. Michael A. Ben-Aderet in an informational video. “Getting your flu shot, getting your bivalent COVID-19 vaccine—these things will help prevent infection, reduce transmission and potentially save lives.”  

With the spring semester starting, students are at a high risk of contracting these diseases as classrooms will be full of students who are coming back from breaks spent with loved ones. This means that as Miners, to lower the risk of infection and keep the on-campus community safe, certain precautions and guidelines can be followed.   

One of the biggest health resources at UTEP is the Student Health and Wellness Center. Located in Union East, the Student Health and Wellness Center offers many free services to its students, including things like COVID-19 testing.   

According to its website, “UTEP student COVID-19 testing is voluntary, and it allows current UTEP students to identify if they have contracted the virus even if they are not experiencing symptoms. If a student tests positive, they will be asked to return home to avoid spreading the virus to others. Testing is free and available to all UTEP students who are currently enrolled. No appointments are necessary.”  

For more information on scheduling appointments or tests, available services, location and hours of availability, visit the Student Health and Wellness Center’s website or call its facilities at (915) 747-5624.  

UTEP also has its own set of advised precautions to take when dealing with face-to-face programming as set by the Professional and Public Programs. This includes things like masking when appropriate, consistently washing and sanitizing hands, getting vaccinated and staying home when sick.   

There are more tips, answers to frequently asked questions and valuable information available at the extended university’s website. 

When asked about how this wave could impact students during the new semester, an educator at Capt. Walter E. Clarke Middle shared his concern about the quality of learning people can achieve while sick. 

“More absences means less time in the classroom, learning gaps, playing more catchup,” said 7th grade math teacher, Eduardo Farias. “We (also) spend more time reteaching because of the absences.”  

Altogether, while celebration and gathering is important to help keep people’s beliefs and cultural practices alive, it is also important to look out for the health of those being celebrated with. This semester, Miners should be able to have fun, be happy and most importantly stay safe as they bring in the new year and spring semester.  

Meagan Garcia is the arts & culture editor and may be reached at [email protected]. 

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About the Contributor
Meagan Elizabeth García
Meagan Elizabeth García, Arts & Culture Editor
Meagan Elizabeth García is the arts and culture for The Prospector. She is a senior, majoring in mechanical engineering at UTEP. She is also the vice-president for the Creative Writing Society with hopes of continuing a writing career while also working for NASA as an engineer.
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