Another Day, Another New COVID-19 Variant

On the heels of the weekend announcement that Dallas County had its first – and the state’s third – case of a variant of the virus that causes COVID-19, California health officials reported that they have found a new variant.

Researchers found the strain in several counties in California, and in several large outbreaks in Santa Clara County especially. They are not certain at this point if its highly contagious like the United Kingdom variant.

The LA Times reports: “Santa Clara County laboratories studying changes in the virus’ genome sequence found the strain in samples from community testing sites and from outbreaks where ‘very high numbers of people exposed contracted the virus,’ officials said.

It’s also unknown how prevalent the new strain is because viral genomic sequencing isn’t done consistently across the country. But what is known is that the variant carries three mutations in the spike protein, which is what the virus uses to attach to and enter cells.

“The two COVID-19 vaccines on the market in the U.S., produced by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, train the body’s immune system to target the spike protein,” the article said. “This means that, in theory, the virus mutations could alter the spike protein to a degree that the vaccines become less effective.”

That doesn’t mean it’s not important to get the vaccine, however. Research is indicating that the current vaccine is still effective against the UK strain. This week, the state will receive 333,650 first doses of the vaccine, which will be shipped to 260 providers across the state, including 79 hub providers focusing on large community vaccination efforts, the Texas Department of State Health Services said.

A total of 5,896 new confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus were reported by Dallas County health officials over the weekend, and an additional 1,107 probable cases were reported, along with 42 deaths.

On Friday, the county reported 2,817 cases (2,153 confirmed cases and 664 probable) and 24 deaths, on Saturday 2,809 cases (2,432 confirmed and 377 probable) and five deaths, and on Sunday, 1,377 cases (1,311 confirmed and 66 probable) and 13 deaths.

Among the dead are two Dallas men in their 40s, a Mesquite man in his 40s, a Dallas woman in her 40s, a Dallas man in his 50s, a Mesquite man in his 50s, a Balch Springs man in his 50s, two Dallas women in their 50s, a Grand Prairie man in his 50s, two Garland men in their 60s, four Dallas women in their 60s (one died in a local hospital emergency room), a Dallas man in his 60s, a Balch Springs woman in her 70s, two Dallas women in their 70s, three Dallas men in their 70s, a Lancaster man in his 70s, two Garland men in their 70s, a Mesquite man in his 70s, a Mesquite woman in her 70s, an Irving man in his 70s, and three Dallas men in their 80s.

The county reported 11 active long-term care facility outbreaks on Saturday, with a total of 3,453 residents and 1,982 healthcare workers in long-term facilities in Dallas that have been diagnosed with COVID-19. 

Of these, 717 have been hospitalized and 386 have died, including a man in his 50s who lived at a Mesquite facility, a woman in her 50s who lived in an Irving facility, a woman in her 60s who lived in a Mesquite facility, a man in his 70s who lived in a Dallas facility, a man in his 70s who lived in a Mesquite facility, a woman in her 80s who lived in a Dallas facility, a woman in her 80s who lived in a Mesquite facility, a woman in her 80s who lived in a Dallas facility and died at a local ER, and a centenarian who lived in a Mesquite facility and died in hospice care.

The county said that the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations Friday was 1,145 patients. Emergency room visits for COVID-19 symptoms represented about 21% of all ER visits, according to information reported to the North Central Texas Trauma Regional Advisory Council

UT Southwestern’s latest forecast projects that by Jan. 29, Dallas County hospitals could see concurrent hospitalizations rise to between 940 and 1,440 cases, with roughly 2,700 new cases per day on average. 

According to trackers provided by Dallas ISD and Highland Park ISD, cases of COVID-19 are cropping up at schools. On Friday, Dallas ISD’s COVID-19 dashboard indicated that there were now 3,260 cases throughout the district – 1,612 among campus staff, 356 among central staff, and 1,292 among students.

Hillcrest High School has 27 cases, W.T. White High School has 38 cases, Thomas Jefferson High School has 41, Marsh Middle School has 16 cases, Benjamin Franklin Middle School has 16, Medrano Middle School has 14, Longfellow has 10, Walker Middle School has six, Dealey Montessori has nine, Walnut Hill Elementary has 19, Sudie Williams has seven, Foster Elementary has 11, Nathan Adams Elementary has eight, Pershing Elementary has four, Withers Elementary has 13, Gooch Elementary has 18, Kramer Elementary has 16, Preston Hollow Elementary has 12, and K.B. Polk has 14 cases.

Highland Park ISD is reporting 13 staff cases and 37 student cases (15 among four of the five elementary schools, five at the middle schools, and 17 at Highland Park High School). Neither district provides information on how many students and staff have quarantined due to classroom exposure to the virus. 

Not all private schools are publicly reporting their cases, but among those that are:

  • Greenhill reported five active student cases and eight staff and faculty cases as of Jan. 17.
  • Ursuline reported nine lab-confirmed student case of COVID-19 and 75 students quarantining as of Jan. 14, and two confirmed cases among faculty and staff, with four staff members quarantining.
  • Hockaday reported eight students and two faculty or staff members as having active cases, with 25 students and 18 staff members or faculty quarantining.

Over the past 30 days, there have been 7,310 COVID-19 cases in school-aged children and staff reported from 674 separate K-12 schools in Dallas County, with 1,842 of these cases reported during the last week of December.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, a total of 41 cases of COVID-19 have been reported among school nurses and nurse assistants—almost half (19) of which have been diagnosed during the past 2 weeks,” the county said Sunday. “One COVID-19 outbreak in a school in December originated with spread among 11 staff members, with transmission to 10 students, and subsequent additional SARS-CoV-2 infections documented among at least 13 household members of these students and staff.  One death and one hospitalization occurred from this outbreak.”

Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson, Digital Editor at People Newspapers, cut her teeth on community journalism, starting in Arkansas. Recently, she's taken home a few awards for her writing, including first place for her tornado coverage from the National Newspapers Association's 2020 Better Newspaper Contest, a Gold award for Best Series at the 2018 National Association of Real Estate Editors journalism awards, a 2018 Hugh Aynesworth Award for Editorial Opinion from the Dallas Press Club, and a 2019 award from NAREE for a piece linking Medicaid expansion with housing insecurity. She is a member of the Education Writers Association, the Society of Professional Journalists, the National Association of Real Estate Editors, the News Leaders Association, the News Product Alliance, and the Online News Association. She doesn't like lima beans, black licorice or the word synergy. You can reach her at [email protected].

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *