What We Should Know About the New Variants of COVID-19


Wakaba Aihara '22, Layout Editor in Chief, Staff Writer

 It has been over a year since COVID-19 was first identified in Wuhan, China, in December 2019. Due to its highly contagious nature, the number of affected cases globally rose alarmingly. Without giving us room for a sigh of relief, in December 2020, a new variant of COVID-19 was discovered in the United Kingdom. Soon after, two other variants emerged in South Africa and Brazil. Once again, the whole world was thrown into horror and confusion. 

 These recently discovered variants of SARS-CoV-2, which cause COVID-19, were also found in Colorado, United States, last December. No one can assure you that you won’t get infected; it is now crucial to understand the situation and to learn how to protect ourselves from the new health risk. 

 To begin, it is important to know the scientific explanation behind the emergence of the COVID-19 variants. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Johns Hopkins Hospital, a variant of a virus occurs due to a mutation, which is a change in a DNA or RNA sequence. This genetic change constantly occurs within a virus’s body, and hence, as the CDC states, “new variants of a virus are expected to occur over time.”

 There are currently three known variants of COVID-19 that are all different from the version first found in Wuhan, China: B.1.1.7 in the United Kingdom, B.1.351 in South African, and P.1 in Brazil (listed in the order of discovery). Although there have not been enough studies conducted yet, it has been reported by experts that these variants are 50% to 70% more contagious, and hence spread more quickly, which will potentially result in another boom in reported cases, hospitalization, and deaths. The latest research suggests that currently authorized COVID-19 vaccines can be used, but they are less effective on the new variants. Even so, UK health secretary, Matt Hancock believes that it is “out of control” (Shah). 

 While new information about the clinical, virologic, and epidemiologic characteristics of these variants is rapidly emerging, there are known and proven ways to reduce your risk of contracting the variants. Remember to continue to adhere to Berkshire’s health and safety protocols: mask up in all-shared public spaces, maintain social distancing, wash your hands thoroughly, always have your TRACE app running, and fill out the REACH survey every day. It is crucial that you follow these rules not only to keep yourself safe but also others around you. As Professor Robert Cyril Bollinger of Johns Hopkins says, “We need to continue doing what we’re doing.”



National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD), Division of Viral Diseases. “New Variants of the Virus That Causes COVID-19.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2 Feb. 2021, www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019ncov/transmission/variant.html.  

“A Timeline of COVID-19 Developments in 2020.” AJMC, MJH Life Sciences, 1 Jan. 2021, www.ajmc.com/view/a-timeline-of-covid19-developments-in-2020

Shah, Hasit. “The UK’s New Coronavirus Strain Is Already Having a Global Impact.” Quartz, Quartz Media, 21 Dec. 2020, qz.com/1948517/what-do-we-know-about-the-new-strain-of-coronavirus-in-the-uk/.     

Bollinger, Robert, and Stuart Ray. “New Variants of Coronavirus: What You Should Know.” Johns Hopkins Medicine, The Johns Hopkins University, The Johns Hopkins Hospital, and Johns Hopkins Health System, 2021, www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/coronavirus/a-new-strain-of-coronavirus-what-you-should-know.