As the number of COVID virus cases drops, more and more local and state governments are lifting restrictions on their citizens. This is very good news for everyone who is more than ready to get back to living life in a pandemic free world. However, with the lifting of these restrictions comes more challenges that we all must face if we are to beat this thing once and for all. Even though the number of cases and deaths is slowly dropping, new variants and mutations of the covid virus are popping up every day. Read more to learn about the new types of COVID viruses and what you can do to help prevent them from spreading.
How Does the Coronavirus Change or Mutate?
Once a virus infects a healthy cell in your body, it takes over the host and uses it to manufacture copies of itself. These copies then spread throughout your body and do the same thing to more cells. Sometimes, as an infected cell is making a new copy, it will make a mistake and a mutation will be created. Virologists can observe and trace these mutations as they spread throughout groups of people. If there are enough virus particles that share similar characteristics, then a new variant has been created. If these characteristics are distinct and can be easily identified across multiple variants, then scientists have to classify these differences as a new and separate strain. The virus that we all know and hate called COVID – 19 is caused by a strain that scientists have identified as SARS-CoV-2.
Mutations can affect many parts of the virus particles and their attributes. For example, a variant known as B.1.1.7 was first identified in Britain back in December. This mutation enables the virus to infect about 50% more people on average.
It does so by altering the spike proteins located on the outside of the virus. Mutated spike proteins in B.1.1.7 known as N501Y and P681H help the virus latch onto human cells better, as well as enabling the virus to grow these spikes at a faster rate. Other notable variants that have drawn concern from the scientific community are known as COVID Variant B.1.351 and P.1. These were originally discovered in South Africa and Brazil, respectively. They have developed mutations that reduce the effectiveness of some vaccines. The three COVID 19 variants mentioned above are the ones that are most prevalent and known to be spreading across the United States, as of February 10, 2021.
More information on the different strains of COVID-19 in the United States can be found on the CDC website.
Are These New Variants More Dangerous?
As new mutations are created, others die off or are phased out. Luckily, none of the new virus variants have raised any sort of alarms. While some may be more infectious, these variants may also be more susceptible to vaccine treatments. As the virus evolves and reveals more of itself, it makes it easier for scientists to understand how it works, putting them another step closer to a solution. Anytime there is a virus outbreak or new pandemic, scientists expect it to undergo changes and mutate as it spreads.
While the results still need to be finalized, early testing of some of the more popular, existing vaccines has been shown to protect against some of these variants such as the ones that originated from the U.K. and South Africa.
What Can I Do to Keep Myself and Others Protected?
In general, it has been said that we have not needed to change our current safety precautions and how we wear a mask as more mutations and variants are created. That is until studies were conducted recently by the CDC that present evidence that better protection may be required.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has released guidance that states it is more effective and protective for citizens to wear two masks instead of one and that the straps or ear loops of these masks should be knotted to improve the fit of the masks on one’s face. They have specifically stated that “fitting a cloth mask over a medical procedure mask and knotting the ear loops of a medical procedure mask and then tucking in and flattening the extra material close to the face” will help minimize the spread of the virus and decrease the overall levels of exposure that people may face daily.
The CDC has also stated that universal masking, along with the new guidance, is very effective at slowing the spread of the virus when coupled with other safety procedures like social distancing, hand washing, avoiding large crowds or confined spaces, and making sure that indoor areas such as homes, apartments, and offices are properly ventilated using high-quality HVAC filters.
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