Coronavirus cases are trending downward across the U.S., but the emergence of several concerning variant strains has dampened some of the optimism about where the pandemic is heading.

Public health officials are keeping a close eye on three separate variants, first discovered in the United Kingdom, South Africa and Brazil. Early studies suggest these mutant strains could be more transmissible or render vaccines less effective.

More recently, two notable variants popped up on opposite sides of the U.S. In California, researchers say a mutation first identified there last year is more transmissible, though their study hasn't been peer-reviewed yet. Scientists also say in two separate studies, neither of which has been published in an academic journal, that a new variant in New York is spreading rapidly and may weaken the strength of vaccines.

Much remains unknown about the variants, though some of the early data is worrisome. Still, college leaders shouldn't think their rise means the fight against coronavirus on campuses is unwinnable.

"Regardless of the variant, we know that masking works, we know that physical distancing works, we know that good hygiene works," said Anita Barkin, co-chair of the American College Health Association's COVID-19 task force. "We need to continue to focus on the things that work."

Higher Ed Dive asked infectious disease and public health experts about how colleges should prepare for the variants, and whether they should change their approach to the virus in light of the new strains and growing availability of vaccines.

Read the full article about how colleges should address the variants by Natalie Schwartz at Higher Ed Dive.