New COVID strains threaten nation, universities

Photo courtesy MGN Online

As the nation frantically searches for answers to their pandemic prayers in the Covid-19 vaccine, new strains of the virus have descended and made landfall in different parts of the country. The new strain of the virus — initially detected in southeastern England in September of last year — is now known as B.1.1. and has since mutated.  Medical experts say that the more people the virus infects the more chances it has to progress.

Researchers in the United Kingdom have detected at least 15 cases of the B.1.1.7 variants.  This strain of the virus first made headlines in early December of last year.  These different mutations concern medical experts due to the fact that it could make the vaccine significantly less effective.

Researchers and the general public have limited knowledge on the threat these variants pose.  What many doknow is that any mutation of the virus is highly contagious and is known to spread more easily among people than the earlier strains of SARS-CoV-2, the pandemic virus.  Also, according to preliminary evidence, these new strains could cause more severe disease.

The new COVID strains have begun to gain traction in the United States, causing some of the larger universities to halt their money makers — all athletic activities– and require a mandatory 14-day quarantine for all athletes whether exposed to the virus or not.  The University of Michigan was the first to enact this university wide halt in athletic competition, and Northwestern University quickly followed suit.  Since then, schools like Villanova and Berkley have seen excessive spikes in positive cases on campus.

What does this mean for the future of higher education?  It’s difficult to tell.  Florida A&M University and Florida State University continue to conduct business as usual.  FAMU had reported a decrease in cases last month but has since instituted a curfew mandate for all students due to the recent spike in cases.

“As a result of the increase in cases we are instituting a curfew mandate for all students living on campus.  Students are to be in their assigned residence hall from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. on the weekend (Friday-Sunday).  The curfew will go into effect on Friday, January 29, 2021, at 12a.m. and continue until further notice,” wrote FAMU’s dean of students.

Director of Student Health Services Tanya Tatum weighed in on what the new strain could mean for FAMU.

“We’ve put in place a number of measures to address [the new strain] as much as we can.  There’s not really anything else we can do to mitigate any of the consequences of it.  We ask that people be safe and responsible with their health and the health of others but it can be difficult to force that.” Tatum said.

The chances of FAMU going back to completely remote learning are slim to none.  Although cases continue to increase and the new strain is reaching higher levels of development, returning to distance education has been deemed the “nuclear option”.   Florida State has outlined general policies for the student body to adhere to but has not commented on its recent surge in cases.

            Looking toward the future it is important that we as citizens continue to do our part. All viruses mutate, but we can minimize the impact by wearing masks, social distancing and staying home.

Looking toward the future, medical experts say it is important that we all continue to do our part. All viruses mutate, but we can minimize the impact by wearing masks, social distancing and staying home.