New Strain of Coronavirus Strains the Salt Lake City School District


Charlotte Wolff, Social Media Director

After enduring 10 months (and counting) of isolation, distancing, masks, and Zoom calls (not mentioning everything else from 2020), it is safe to assume that no one is ready to hear bad news. However, there’s been an unfortunate recent development of the pandemic. A new strain of Covid-19 has been discovered, and it is more contagious than the strain we have already been experiencing.

According to the BBC, this new variant of the virus is a result of a mutation in the original virus. The mutation itself is a change in the spike protein that is Coronavirus, the spike being the part of the virus that makes contact with our cells before any other part. Specifically, the receptor-binding domain of the spike has been mutated, making it easier for the virus to get inside of our cells.

The good news is that our current vaccines will be effective against the new variant of the virus, as all three attack different parts of the virus. However, though this new strain is not perceived to be more fatal than our current strain, what it means for our current infection numbers, death numbers, and hospital admission rates is concerning. With the new strain being about 50% more contagious, it is expected that there will be approximately five times more deaths from Coronavirus than we are currently experiencing. As for hospital admission rates, Utah Intensive Care Units are at 99.4% capacity as of December 2020, and they have already gone over maximum capacity once.

“It’s a big deal for a world that’s already stretched trying to keep in control the old variant,” Marc Lipsitch, PhD, professor of epidemiology at Harvard University said. 

It’s not just health officials that are concerned. Highland students are worried about the new strain, especially because of the pending decision of the Salt Lake City school district about whether or not there will be an option for in-person school in the 2020-2021 school year.

“The new strain should absolutely affect the school district’s decision. The infection and death numbers are already higher than they’ve ever been, and with a new strain, we should not be going back to school. Utah has an issue with overpopulation in schools. There’s a maximum of 30 students in a class, so there is no way to properly social distance… There is no way that it isn’t going to get spread. Even if they provide an online learning option… it’s not fair because a lot of people have parents that are at risk, or they’re at risk themselves. [The new strain] should definitely affect the decision,” Highland senior Fiona Hardin said.

Highland students are concerned about the new strain in terms of the possibility of and risks associated with in-person school. The school district is already under pressure to convert to in-person learning, but this development in our knowledge of the virus has added a brand-new layer of constraint to the decision. As far as safety measures go, it’s unclear whether or not Salt Lake City schools will be able to properly prepare for in-person school, especially with the existence of a more infectious strain.

“If we don’t change our control measures, once it becomes common, it will accelerate transmission considerably,” Lipstich said.