New COVID-19 variant: Omicron causes new cases to rise

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Kushi Maridu

The Omicron variant threatens to be two times more transmissible than the Delta variant.

Kushi Maridu, Site Manager

Although COVID emerged in December 2019, the pandemic has been ongoing due to mutations that make the virus stronger. The Delta variant first emerged as a variant of concern in December 2020 and is the most prominent variant right now. Another potentially more dangerous variant emerged in late November 2021.

Scientists have named it the Omicron variant.

The Omicron variant first appeared in Botswana and South Africa. The first thing that the scientists noticed about this variant was that it had a lot more mutations than a typical variant. After seeing how the Delta variant quickly became the most dominant strain, scientists immediately deemed it a variant of concern and stated that this variant poses a “very high” global risk.

Scientists have said that these mutations will make this variant less susceptible to vaccines and more transmissible among humans. In South Africa, where Omicron is the dominant strain, Omicron has been reinfecting people that had already been previously infected. Researchers also found that it has been spreading twice as fast as the Delta variant.

However, it is too early to say how deadly this new variant is. Biology teacher Craig Parker explains why these mutations occur.

“Mutations often arise during viral replication. The more a virus replicates, the greater the likelihood that mutations will occur. This is especially true of RNA viruses like SARS CoV-2. It’s too soon to say for sure, but early reports are that this variant, while more contagious, is largely causing mild cases,” Parker explained.

So far, the Omicron variant has spread to every continent except Antarctica. Some Omicron cases have started popping up in the United States as well.

Multiple states have confirmed cases, and scientists are predicting a lot more cases to follow similarly to how Delta took over the US in less than two months. 

Most schools in the US have returned to normal learning conditions by deeming masks optional, and scientists are hopeful that the approval of the Pfizer vaccine for school aged children will help to reduce the the virus’ winter spread. However, this new Omicron variant threatens to change that.

Although it is too early to say how Omicron will affect schools, Principal Darren Erickson has some predictions for how this will play out.

“We work with not only the school board, but with Scott County Health and the state of Iowa. Right now, regarding what potential changes there are, there is still the state mandate in place.