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What We Know About the New COVID-19 Strain

  • Category: COVID-19
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What We Know About the New COVID-19 Strain

You may have heard recently about the new strain of COVID-19 that has emerged from the UK, resulting in travel restrictions and strict lockdown measures to help prevent the spread. As Texas grapples with record COVID cases and deaths, the idea of another strain can feel demoralizing and lead to more questions. What do we know about this new strain and how does it differ from the current virus? Is there reason to be alarmed? Should we change our behavior in any way to remain COVID-19 free?

What’s different about this strain?

Though there isn't an exact answer at this moment, it appears that this mutation behaves largely the same as the original. The strain was officially detected in early December and was found in areas of the UK that are experiencing a higher transmission rate than the norm. Infections in these areas were analyzed and found to be just over 70 percent more transmissible than the current virus. A study published on the 18th of this month indicates that increased transmission rate can be attributed to a mutation in the spike protein; this protein is what allows the virus to infect human cells.

Should we change our behavior?

Many people are wondering: should I do anything different? According to Professor Mark Harris, a virologist at the University of Leeds, “ is important to point out that it is still the same virus, causing the same disease. The mechanism by which it is transmitted is also the same, but the genetic changes in this variant appear to enable it to transmit more efficiently, although the biological explanation for this increased rate of transmission remains to be determined. So, the key messages to prevent transmission are the same – limit the number and size of gatherings, maintain social distancing, wear masks in public areas, wash hands frequently etc. The virus can only mutate into new variants when it infects people, so reducing the number of infections will also decrease the potential for variation.”

What about the vaccine?

At this time, there is no reason to believe that the vaccine would not be effective against this particular strain. We will know more in the coming months as the vaccines are distributed to the wider population and this mutation is further researched and understood. For now, there is good reason to remain optimistic about the imminent vaccines.

Remember to always refer to the CDC guidelines and other trusted resources when confronting new information about the virus. Stay safe and healthy!