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Students trek up Main Street with views of Nippert Stadium and TUC Wednesday, Aug. 25, 2021.

It's hard for me to put the dread I felt when I saw the email from the University of Cincinnati's (UC) COVID Response Team into words. Part of me knew it was coming long before last Tuesday. Still, reading the words, "the university will move operations online beginning Wednesday, January 5, 2022," felt like a gut punch. 

Now, we must ask ourselves the question yet again: Are we bound for another semester of online learning? Sure, the email also said we would pivot back to in-person classes on Jan. 24, but past disappointment has me highly skeptical. Still, not all hope is lost. 

I'll start with the good news. The nation's top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, predicted that the latest COVID-19 wave, caused mainly by the Omicron variant, would peak in the U.S. by the end of January

"I would imagine, given the size of our country and the diversity of vaccination versus not vaccination, that it likely will be more than a couple of weeks, probably by the end of January, I would think," Fauci said. But he added, "there's no guarantee that that would happen."

Most models produced by the COVID-19 Scenario Modeling Hub agree with Fauci's prediction, although some projected the peak to occur by the end of February. 

However, this is about as far as the good news goes. We must consider that these projections predict the Omicron variant's peak, not when it will be safe enough for us to return to the classroom. 

If you haven't heard already, I hate to be the one to inform you, but the numbers are "bad and getting worse." That's the headline I saw on the front page of the Cincinnati Enquirer while I was buying snacks from Walgreens. It was the day after we were given the news that we would start the semester online – giving me déjà vu as I remembered all the other times I thought COVID was improving, only to have the rug ripped out from under me. 

In that article, a grim picture was painted of the Omicron variant's grip on the region. As of last Monday, 808 COVID patients fill local hospitals, surpassing the total during last winter's holiday surge in cases. Cases are doubling every three days, the Cincinnati Health Department estimates. The COVID test positivity rate also hit a pandemic record of 26.5%.

Though I am no infectious disease expert, it's hard for me to look at these numbers and projections and feel good about the upcoming semester. At the very least, I think there is almost no possibility that we will return to the classroom on Jan. 24. 

The best scenario, I think, is we end online learning in early February – after the virus has a chance to lessen from its unrelenting surge. Though that seems semi-likely to me at this point, prepare for a rollercoaster this semester. If COVID has taught us anything thus far, it's to expect the unexpected. 

I'll end with this: Please get your booster shot if you haven't already. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a booster is 75% effective against the Omicron variant, while two doses are only 35% effective.

News Director

Zachary Jarrell has been with The News Record since 2020 as a staff reporter, opinion reporter and now news director. He has interned with Gateway Journalism Review and The National Memo.