Jessica Sarrach ‘24, News Editor
As we pass the one year anniversary of COVID-19 coming to America, things look wildly different from last February. The coronavirus has mutated, and new strands have begun spreading worldwide. One new strand, B.1.1.7, started spreading viscously across Europe, and has reached the United States as of late december.
Since viruses “live” to spread or infect as many people as possible, they can often mutate during transmission. For example, B.1.1.7 has 17 different genetic changes from the initial COVID-19 virus. This new strand is believed to be more contagious because it has multiple mutations that affect the virus’s spike protein. This is concerning because spike proteins help viruses attach to human cells, making the B.1.1.7 strand much more infectious.
Expert on infectious diseases and professor at Johns Hopkins University, Dr. Robert Bollinger said, “Researchers have preliminary evidence that some of the new variants, including B.1.1.7, seem to bind more tightly to our cells. This appears to make some of these new strains ‘stickier’ due to changes in the spike protein. Studies are underway to understand more about whether any of the variants are more easily transmitted.” Because this strand is seen as more transmittable, there is a high chance that infection rates will begin to spike up again.
Europe is now considered a central hotspot for the new COVID-19 strand, specifically the United Kingdom. This is largely because the mutation appeared for the first time in Europe and has been spreading like wildfire since. While much is not known about this mutation, it has been noted that it is rapidly more contagious than the initial virus. With the new strand being highly contagious, the United Kingdom was forced to close down again, leaving their people in a quarantine bound in isolation. During lockdown, the new strain tripled its infection rate, while the initial strain’s rate dropped by a third.
Due to the fact that this strand is relatively new, much is still left to the unknown. With the strand being more contagious, it is expected that there will be a lot more deaths then with the initial spread, even if the strain itself is not necessarily more “deadly.” When asked about how the new strand could affect the survival rate or severity of the virus, disease expert and leader of the National Institution of Allergy and Infectious disease Dr. Anthony Fauci said, “If you have a virus [that is] more transmissible, [you are] going to get more cases, when you get more cases, [you are] going to get more hospitalizations, and when you get more hospitalizations, you ultimately are going to get more deaths.” As Facui explains, it is quite possible we will see more death with this new strand, making it incredibly dangerous to the general population.
Although COVID-19 strand B.1.1.7 may seem scary, there is no evidence that the vaccine will not be effective against it. The COVID-19 vaccine was formulated to target more than one region on spike proteins. Because of this, most doctors believe that the vaccine will be effective against the new strand; however, nothing will be certain until more testing is done. During the meantime, the smartest way to stay safe is to continue taking precautions such as wearing a mask and frequently washing one’s hands.