- A new coronavirus strain that originated in the UK is said to be 50% more contagious.
- The new strain has already been found in nine states and may become the dominant strain in the US over the next 2-3 months.
- To date, more than 400,000 Americans have died from COVID since the pandemic began.
The ongoing battle to move past the coronavirus pandemic is almost playing out like a movie in the sense that there’s a race to vaccinate as many people as possible before more contagious strains of the virus become dominant. So while coronavirus vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna have certainly provided us with the hope that life might return to normal in just a few months, health experts are keeping a close and watchful eye on the spread of new coronavirus mutations.
While coronavirus mutations have been observed in the UK, Japan, and South Africa, the highly infectious B.1.1.7 coronavirus variant from the UK is particularly worrisome. The mutation was first noticed in the UK back in November and some health experts believe it could become the dominant strain in the U.S. later this year. The strain is said to be 50% more contagious than the original and, as a result, experts are already warning people to adjust their day-to-day routines.
Speaking to Refinery29, Dr. Abisola Olulad explains that people should limit how much time they spend indoors in public places, even if they’re wearing a mask and following social distancing guidelines. In other words, trips to the grocery store or shopping excursions should be quick in-and-out affairs.
Dr. Olulade stresses that we know that the virus spreads much more easily indoors than it does outdoors. If you do have to be inside, keep your trip as short as possible. “You don’t want to be having conversations or lingering [indoors],” she says. “You want to plan out what you’re going to be doing and spend as little time as possible [indoors].”
Second, it’s no secret that pandemic fatigue over the past few months has prompted many people to become more lenient with respect to who they hang out with. In light of the new COVID strain, however, people should also be more cautious about spending time with anyone outside of their immediate pod.
“We have to go back to old-school methods of preventing this, especially since the vaccine rollout has been abysmally slow,” Olulade adds.
The more infectious nature of the new COVID strain can’t be understated. A study on the transmissibility o the new strain from December reads in part:
Our estimates suggest that control measures of a similar stringency to the national lockdown implemented in England in November 2020 are unlikely to reduce the effective reproduction number Rt to less than 1, unless primary schools, secondary schools, and universities are also closed. We project that large resurgences of the virus are likely to occur following easing of control measures. It may be necessary to greatly accelerate vaccine roll-out to have an appreciable impact in suppressing the resulting disease burden.
The only good news is that the new COVID strain, while more contagious, isn’t more deadly. What’s more, health experts are confident that COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna can effectively prevent an infection from the new strain.
As it stands now, the UK COVID-19 strain has already been found in nine states across the country, a list that includes Texas, Colorado, Nevada, Connecticut, Georgia, Florida, Pennsylvania, California, and Louisiana.
Looking ahead, we can only hope that the vaccination rollout in the U.S. advances rapidly enough to offset the more contagious nature of the new strain. With Joe Biden set to assume the Presidency tomorrow, Dr. Fauci is optimistic that vaccinating 100 million Americans in 100 days — which Biden promised — is achievable.
As to what the Biden administration will do differently from the Trump administration, Fauci recently opined:
I think one of the things that President-elect Biden said is that there will be a greater degree of coordination, interaction, and support on the part of the federal government interacting with the states.
You don’t want the federal government to take all the responsibility of doing this. You don’t want the states to be left on their own. You need to have a good degree of interaction, and I think that’s what we’re going to see more of, where states will have help in regards to resources, but also more of a general coordinated plan about how to do this.
Meanwhile, the U.S. death toll from the coronavirus passed 400,000 earlier today.