• The latest coronavirus update from White House health advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci sounds somewhat alarming — that the newest strain of COVID-19 seems to be more transmissible than ever.
  • That news only reinforces the fact that health experts are particularly worried about what the US will face in the coming months, when we have both COVID-19 and flu season to deal with.
  • The good news from Dr. Fauci, however, is that this new strain of COVID-19 doesn’t seem to be more virulent, despite its greater transmissibility.

As deadly and destructive as the coronavirus pandemic has been up to this point, with the latest Johns Hopkins data showing that more than 7.5 million Americans having been sickened by the virus thus far while more than 212,000 have died, health experts never expected that the virus would stay the same. They always assumed, in other words, that it would mutate and evolve while it continues to rampage across the population, tweaking itself incrementally along the way.

Change, in fact, has been the watchword associated with the novel coronavirus since health experts first became aware of it. And in a new coronavirus update he shared during a video chat with students and faculty from College of the Holy Cross this week, White House health advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci provided some important insights into how the coronavirus has mutated, how transmissible its newest strain is, and what people need to know about those changes.

One of the main takeaways is that the latest COVID-19 mutation may make the virus able to spread from person-to-person more easily. “There is the assumption, although not completely proven yet, that if anything this is more transmissible,” Fauci warned.

In truth, this is a good news/bad news situation. And this is the bad news, per Fauci: “When the scientists examined (the new mutation), they found that that new strain — which is now prevalent throughout the world (after) it kind of bumped the original strain out — and in vitro, not in a person yet — replicates better and binds more efficiently to the receptors on a variety of cells that were grown in culture,” Fauci explains.

News that the virus is able to now spread much more readily comes at probably the worst possible time, given that health experts like Fauci and others have been warning that the US is in store for a so-called “twindemic” this fall and winter. Tens of thousands of new coronavirus cases are still being reported every day, and the arrival of flu season will complicate the response to both viruses exponentially.

The good news from Fauci, however, is that while the latest strain of coronavirus seems much more transmissible, it’s not necessarily more virulent.

“Viruses, when they permeate society, rarely become more virulent,” Fauci said during the video chat. “Generally they become less virulent as they adapt themselves with greater transmissibility.” What’s more, at least for now, scientists like him are saying that the virus hasn’t changed so much that it’s harder to vaccinate against — though the warnings about doubling-down on behaviors like wearing face masks and avoiding crowds are still all the more important as we move into the colder months of the year.

Andy is a reporter in Memphis who also contributes to outlets like Fast Company and The Guardian. When he’s not writing about technology, he can be found hunched protectively over his burgeoning collection of vinyl, as well as nursing his Whovianism and bingeing on a variety of TV shows you probably don’t like.