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Coronavirus 2.0

Happy New Year.

The first known case of a new and possibly more contagious coronavirus strain has been reported in Texas, in an adult male resident of Harris County who had no history of travel, according to the state health services department and County Judge Lina Hidalgo.

The variant known as B.1.1.7 was first identified in the United Kingdom, where it has spread quickly, and cases have been found in several U.S. states, including California and Colorado. It does not cause a more severe disease, and vaccines “are expected to be effective against it,” the health services department said, citing the existing scientific evidence.

“The fact that this person had no travel history suggests this variant is already circulating in Texas,” said Dr. John Hellerstedt, commissioner of the state’s health services department. “Genetic variations are the norm among viruses, and it’s not surprising that it arrived here given how rapidly it spreads.”

While this variant doesn’t appear to be any nastier, as far as we know, and should still be covered by the vaccines, it is apparently capable of spreading faster. Really makes you want to stay away from people, doesn’t it?

On the plus side, maybe.

State officials will start distributing most of Texas’ vaccine doses next week to a handful of large pharmacies and hospitals, creating “vaccination hubs” where more people can get a shot quickly, the Department of State Health Services announced Thursday.

“As the vaccination effort continues to expand to people who are at a greater risk of hospitalization and death, in addition to frontline health care workers, these vaccination hubs will provide people in those priority populations with identifiable sites where vaccination is occurring and a simpler way to sign up for an appointment with each provider,” the department said.

Those hubs could vaccinate more than 100,000 people next week, officials said.

DSHS issued a survey earlier this month to vaccine providers gauging their ability to operate community vaccination sites. The state will release the final list of large-scale providers later this week, after the federal government decides how many doses Texas will receive next week.

We expect another 200K total doses next week as part of this preparation. That’s good, but as we’ve discussed before, the numbers remain daunting. Texas has almost 30 million people in it. At 100K shots a week, you’re looking at six years to get everyone vaccinated. The optimistic interpretation of this story is that 100K per week is a starting point, and we’ll accelerate from there. Great, I sure hope so, but if we want to get enough of the state done to get close to herd immunity this year, we need to get to 500K per week, and every week we operate at less than that makes the target number have to be a little higher. (A better and more organized federal response will surely help.) I know, it’s a hard problem, everyone’s doing the best they can (well, not really, but let’s be generous for these purposes), and so on, but this is the math. As someone once said, the stars may lie but the numbers never do.

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  1. Jason Hochman says:

    The fear mongering needs to stop. Viruses always mutate. When they replicate many copies don’t turn out right. Some are dead ends and others become mutations. The nucleotides that compromise the RNA have constant changes. The B.1.1.7 variant has been around since at least September and the UK hasn’t had any new disaster. There is also a B.1.35.1 variant identified in South Africa. Actually many mutations have been identified.

    The post says “really makes you want to stay away from people.” But I attribute the rise in murder to this anti-social distancing. I don’t have any evidence, but I do feel like it is just hitting an anonymous sac, due to the misanthropy propagated by the fear mongers. I am much more concerned about staying safe from the murderers and the selfish people who speed, coast through stop signs, run red lights, feel obligated to pass every vehicle in front of them, and generally drive with wanton abandon.

    The “on the plus side” section of the post misses many other positives. If the new variant is more contagious but less lethal (we don’t know either of these for sure), then there will be more infections and we’ll be at herd immunity very soon! Also, we should celebrate having defeated influenza! I recall the flu season of 2017-2018 had hospitals overwhelmed, cancelling elective procedures, setting up tents, etc. This year, the CDC influenza map has all states but one in green! We have finally beaten flu. Also, we climate change is now solved! I asked the veterinarian office if having cars idling while waiting in the parking lot was not contributing to the “greatest existential threat” of our time, and they told me that “it’s not a concern now.” It’s Friday and I bet that Greta is in school and not on strike!

    It is fear mongers like this who killed Trevor Till, an 18 year old who took his life due to the isolation, and not being able to participate in activities at school. Very sad to lose a young person who was a good student, musician, athlete. His family is suing Illinois governor Pritzker, hopefully Gov. Abbott will be sued as well for his imperial diktats.

  2. […] this on a much bigger scale in order to make progress against COVID. Remember what I said about the scope of the problem. There’s nearly five million people in Harris County. If we want to get everyone vaccinated […]

  3. […] a lot of number being thrown at us. For sure, 50K per day is a big improvement over the “100K per week” we were at earlier in the year. That was a […]