It’s been nearly a year since this pandemic began, but I have to be honest with you – it’s nowhere near over.
As students started moving in across all of our campuses last week, news of new variants of COVID-19 began to spread.
One of these variants, called “B.1.1.7,” was first identified in the U.K., and it quickly made its way to the U.S. The CDC predicts that the B.1.1.7 COVID-19 variant will be the dominant strain in our country by March.
Researchers at the Mayo Clinic have been monitoring B.1.1.7 closely in recent weeks, and a preliminary study by their researchers found that U.S. cases of the U.K. variant double every 10 days. (However, the aforementioned study is new and has not yet been peer-reviewed.)
Dr. Greg Poland, the director of the Mayo Clinic’s Vaccine Research Group, believes B.1.1.7 is approximately 35 to 45 percent more transmissible than earlier strains of COVID-19. In addition, the variant is estimated to be 28 to 38 percent deadlier than other COVID-19 strains. This combination makes B.1.1.7 much more dangerous.
Not only that, but the vaccines currently in use in the U.S. may not be as effective at protecting against B.1.1.7. Preliminary studies in the U.K. and Africa found that vaccines’ efficacy against the new strain may only be 60 to 85 percent. (Most vaccines are 95 percent effective at preventing infections from earlier strains.)
Another COVID-19 variant, referred to as “P.1,” was identified in Brazil. The first case of P.1 in the U.S. was discovered on Jan. 25 in Minnesota, and it’s spreading like wildfire.
This variant spreads even faster than B.1.1.7. It took only a month for P.1 to dominate cases in Brazil’s capital, Manaus.
Although it’s too early to tell how deadly P.1 may be, we already know it has mutations which help the virus “hide” from antibodies and reinfect people faster. This also means current vaccines may be significantly less effective at preventing P.1’s spread.
So, what can we do?
Now more than ever, you need to stay home. I know in-person classes resumed and move-in day has come and gone, but these dangerous, highly contagious variants will undoubtedly make their way to Greensburg any day now.
If you absolutely must leave your home, you should be double masking. Biden’s administration and the CDC have been disappointingly quiet about double masking, but experts like Dr. Fauci believe it can help increase the effectiveness of your mask by up to 50 percent.
It’s best to wear a medical-grade mask, such as a surgical mask, N95 mask, or KN95 mask, underneath a fabric mask. Unfortunately, our country’s mask production has been woefully inadequate this entire year, so if you’re unable to find medical-grade masks to wear, doubling up on fabric masks will still help.
You should be washing your masks each time you wear them or replacing them if they’re single-use medical masks. (Again, if this isn’t feasible for you because masks are unavailable, it is better to wear a slightly used mask than none at all.)
Wear gloves to help protect your hands from coming into contact with COVID-19 while you’re outside your home, but be sure to dispose of them properly. Do not touch them with your bare hands and throw them away immediately after use. The CDC created this graphic on properly removing gloves during the Ebola outbreak, but it’s still relevant if you need help figuring out how to remove them.
Wash your hands and use hand sanitizer that contains at least 70 percent alcohol often. Don’t interact with people that live outside your home. Don’t go on unnecessary outings.
If you have the option to stay home, you absolutely must. Please, consider how dangerous these new strains are when deciding whether it’s worth going out.
You can contract these new strains regardless of whether you’ve been vaccinated or you’ve contracted other strains of COVID-19 before. Plus, they’re deadlier than other strains. Even if you recovered from COVID-19, you can easily be hospitalized or, worse, lose your life to these new strains.
Is it worth the risk?
Other stories from vol. 14, issue 1:
Remembering Dr. Mark T. Stauffer
Walk a Mile With the Blackburn Center
5 Things You Missed During Biden’s First 3 Weeks
Introducing Pitt-Greensburg’s New Film Club
Spring Sports Resume With New COVID-19 Protocols
Coaches Prepare for a Pandemic Season
Stream Your Heart Out: “Drivers License”
Opinion: Finding Beauty Within the Chaos