The Rising Tide of COVID-19 Variants

Santa Clara’s shift to Orange tier has left many concerned in regards to COVID-19 Variants. As vaccines continue to stall, the state of reopening has been called into question.

Residents+in+Santa+Clara+County+have+begun+signing+up+for+COVID+vaccines.

KRON/AP

Residents in Santa Clara County have begun signing up for COVID vaccines.

Jason Lin

Distress has become quite common in the residents of Santa Clara. A fourth wave of COVID-19 and rising cases of COVID-19 among the youth have taken headlines throughout the week post-Easter. With many schools on spring break and people taking vacations out of state, the likelihood of transmission has increased dramatically. Dr. Sara Cody, Health Officer and Director of Public Health for the County of Santa Clara, and many other county health officials have been vocal about their concerns with the recent spike in cases.

“Regarding this entire pandemic, even when we only knew about the first variant. I was still not feeling very safe. And now, hearing there are multiple variants now kind of adds to the caution that I’ve had.” said Shreeya Kar, a junior at EVHS.

“We’re already seeing surges in other parts of the country, likely driven by variants. Combined with the data we are seeing locally, these are important warning signs that we must continue to minimize the spread,” said Dr. Sara Cody, Health Officer and Director of Public Health for the County of Santa Clara.“We can still stop a surge from happening here if we hold onto our tried and true prevention measures for a little longer while we increase our vaccination rates.”

The propagation of COVID-19 variants has increased rapidly since mid-March. On March 17, Santa Clara county declared a second case of the B.1351 South African COVID-19 variant. This jumped to 3 cases in early April. Furthermore, novel cases of the UK B.1.7.7 COVID-19 variant have increased from 15 in mid-March, to 92 in early April. 

“Having that knowledge that there are more variants out there has been a reminder to not get too excited that the state might be opening up soon,” Kar said.

Additionally, Santa Clara County announced its first case of the P1 Brazilian variant of COVID-19 on March 25. This variant of SARS-COV-2 is noted to be slightly resistant to the vaccines currently administered. Luckily, no new cases of P1 COVID-19 variants have been detected since April 1.

However, over a thousand novel “Californian” variants of COVID-19 have been detected all over Santa Clara. According to WebMD, the Californian variants are much more contagious and may be better at evading the immune system compared to regular COVID-19 strains.

With over 4 variants of COVID-19 circulating around Santa Clara, the odds of a fourth wave increases with every passing day. Since genomic testing for COVID-19 only covers a fraction of confirmed cases, the true scope of these variants’ prevalence remains unknown. As cases rise and vaccinations fall, many are now wondering if we should even continue reopening.

“Personally, I am not a really big fan of cohorts or reopening…Even now that vaccinations are out I am still not very open to the idea,” Kar said. “I think because of the way we have our technology and that we have remote learning. I still would rather not go back since why take the risk when we can avoid it.”

On Wednesday, April 7, the CDC made an announcement regarding the coronavirus variants.

“Based on our most recent estimates from CDC surveillance, the B.1.1.7 variant is now the most common lineage circulating in the United States,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said at a press briefing, referring to the variant.

The UK variant is known to have a 50% higher transmission rate compared to regular COVID-19. So far, California ranks 4th in the number of UK variant infections which have been increasing by the day. With recent delays in the rollout of the single-dose Johnson and Johnson vaccine, vaccine shortages still remain an issue even as Santa Clara expands vaccine eligibility to those 16 and up.

“Seeing that initially vaccinations are just for COVID, and seeing that there are now variants of COVID. It does add a lot of risk to getting outside against, even being vaccinated,” said Manva Gurnani, a sophomore at EVHS. “If I was vaccinated, I still wouldn’t be sure if it was safe again because I wouldn’t be sure if this vaccination really is going to help me protect myself from these different variants spreading in Santa Clara.”

Other students share Gurnani’s concern with the possibility that vaccines may not be enough to protect us against these new variants.

“Considering that we are aware that the vaccine may not be enough. I think that is more proof to people that even if we are vaccinated that doesn’t necessarily mean they can do whatever they want,” Kar said. “I think that this is an especially common belief with younger people. I think there should be common knowledge that the vaccine may not be enough.”

As Santa Clara waits for more vaccinations, an increasing number of students and parents are expressing their concerns regarding school reopening and reopening in general.

“I think reopening cohorts might not be a very good idea because seeing that cases are now increasing in younger people. It is still a risk factor seeing these variants act in the opening of cohorts,” said Gurnani. “I still wouldn’t be confident enough going back to school, even if I got vaccinated in the next few months. So I don’t think these cohorts should be open.”

With the state reopening on June 15, many residents feel that the state is moving too fast. 

“I think it is too ambitious. With the shortage in vaccinations and statistics do show that only 50% of the population want to be vaccinated. So in order to persuade 50% of the population to be vaccinated is something we must consider,” said Hallie Le, the manager of YooGool. “The government needs some local programs to educate more people so they understand the benefits of the vaccinations as a whole for the community.”

Throughout this pandemic, many small businesses like YooGool have been hit especially hard by COVID-19. Many of them were counting on vaccinations and reopening to get their business up and running. However, the spread of variants is hampering their move.

“We found it hard at first because we lost almost 30-40% of our sales compared to the previous year before the pandemic,” said Mrs. Le. “But we have to keep going you know, if you close the shop, lose all the sales or you’ll lose your customers. So we hung in there and tried to do the best that we can.”

Although it has not been easy, Santa Clara’s shift into Orange Tier has provided many with the hope and revenue to continue. Mrs. Le is confident in the coming summer months that business will continue and that the county will recover.

“I feel business is going to pick up during the summertime. With COVID settling a little bit and the hot, nice weather out there, people are going to start coming out. Despite COVID being at home for over a year and a half, I think that people are very eager to get back to a normal life,” said Mrs. Le. 

With summer approaching, the possibility of an extended lockdown season is seeming more and more imminent. As vaccinations stalling and COVID-19 prevalence in the youth increase, the “worrying trend” might become more than just a trend. However, Santa Clara residents remain hopeful about a recovery to the future as vaccinations are set to pick up during mid-April. 

“I think it is safe to say that everyone just wants this to be over and that everyone wants to be able to embrace their loved ones, see their friends, continue their education, and go to work,” Kar said. “Keeping that in mind since we all want the same thing, it is really important that people do their part and remember to stay safe.”