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As the COVID mutates

Just another reminder that we need to continue trying not to spread the virus while we wait for everyone to get vaccinated.

A more contagious variant of the coronavirus first found in Britain is spreading rapidly in the United States, doubling roughly every 10 days, according to a new study.

Analyzing half a million coronavirus tests and hundreds of genomes, a team of researchers predicted that in a month this variant could become predominant in the United States, potentially bringing a surge of new cases and increased risk of death.

The new research offers the first nationwide look at the history of the variant, known as B.1.1.7, since it arrived in the United States in late 2020. Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned that B.1.1.7 could become predominant by March if it behaved the way it did in Britain. The new study confirms that projected path.

“Nothing in this paper is surprising, but people need to see it,” said Kristian Andersen, a co-author of the study and a virologist at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif. “We should probably prepare for this being the predominant lineage in most places in the United States by March.”

Dr. Andersen’s team estimated that the transmission rate of B.1.1.7 in the United States is 30 percent to 40 percent higher than that of more common variants, although those figures may rise as more data comes in, he said. The variant has already been implicated in surges in other countries, including Ireland, Portugal and Jordan.

“There could indeed be a very serious situation developing in a matter of months or weeks,” said Nicholas Davies, an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine who was not involved in the study. “These may be early signals warranting urgent investigation by public health authorities.”


“There’s still a lot that we have to learn,” said Nathan Grubaugh, a virologist at Yale University who was not involved in the study. “But these things are important enough that we have to start doing things now.”

It’s possible that chains of B.1.1.7 transmission are spreading faster than other viruses. Or it might be that B.1.1.7 was more common among incoming travelers starting new outbreaks.

“I still think that we are weeks away from really knowing how this will turn out,” Dr. Grubaugh said.

The contagiousness of B.1.1.7 makes it a threat to take seriously. Public health measures that work on other variants may not be enough to stop B.1.1.7. More cases in the United States would mean more hospitalizations, potentially straining hospitals that are only now recovering from record high numbers of patients last month.

Making matters worse, Dr. Davies and his colleagues at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine posted a study online on Wednesday suggesting that the risk of dying of B.1.1.7 is 35 percent higher than it is for other variants. The study has yet to be published in a scientific journal.

And if you’re worried about that, you can also be worried about this.

The likely more transmissible variant of COVID-19 first detected in South Africa has arrived in the Houston area, according to Houston Methodist Hospital.

The hospital system said it found the region’s first case of the new, faster-spreading variant on Saturday while sequencing the genomes of positive test results. It also found two cases of the variant first discovered in the United Kingdom. The UK variant first was confirmed in the Houston area in early January.

The infected person is a Fort Bend County man, who tested positive weeks ago and has recovered from the illness, said Dr. Jacquelyn Johnson Minter, Fort Bend County Health & Human Services Director. The patient had traveled domestically before his diagnosis. His household members have tested negative, and he did not work while infected so there was no exposure at his job, Minter said.

Still, Minter said she would not be surprised to learn the South Africa variant was spreading through the community.


Dr. Wesley Long, who works with the Methodist sequencing effort, said there is no evidence from the clinical trials of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines that they are less effective against the variants, especially the U.K. strain. He said there is limited evidence that certain other vaccines and therapies that target the spike protein of COVID-19 may be less effective against the South African variant, though they still should provide benefits to most people.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control says “rigorous and increased compliance” with mitigation strategies like social distancing and wearing masks is needed to combat the spread of the virus.

Yes, the same basic techniques to avoid spreading the disease are still effective – masking, social distancing, washing hands, avoiding indoor gatherings – but they have to be strictly followed, because the newer versions of the virus are easier to transmit. So far there’s no evidence that these mutations are resistant to the vaccine, but the risk there is that the more infections, the greater the chances of further mutation, and thus the greater the chances that such a variant could emerge. All of this is to say, stay vigilant. Infection numbers are finally starting to drop, and with that comes the temptation to ease up. It’s still way too early for that.

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  1. Jason Hochman says:

    It is all Biden’s fault. He gave up and said that there is nothing in the next few months that can change the trajectory of this virus. On the other hand, viruses routinely mutate. This virus is not going to go away. It will become endemic, if it has not already.

  2. Bill Daniels says:

    I hope the title is a play on “As the World Turns.” I’m just going to say that it is, because otherwise I chuckled for no reason.

  3. Manny says:

    Endemic to the world, that is a lot of people.

  4. C.L. says:

    FFS, Jason. We had a group of scientists and Doctors who were tasked with keeping abreast of emerging viruses – the/your visionary’ 2016 President decided we had no need….

    We’re on uncharted ground here. Yup, it’s Biden’s fault. It’s also Clinton’s, Bush’s, Obama’s, Reagan’s, yours, mine, Bill’s, Manny’s, the waiter at Applebee’s, my mailman, your checker at Kroger, all the ass clowns who partied in Tampa this past weekend, the children who gathered together at a 4 yr olds party a month ago, blah blah f’in blah.

    Ad Nauseum.

  5. Jason Hochman says:

    C.L. you are correct, of course, but Biden was told by the powers behind him to say that we had 400,000 and all of them were caused by that man (Trump). Now that Biden gets elected, he is telling us that there’s nothing we can do to alter the trajectory of the pandemic in the next few months. The fact checkers and lie counters need to be counting his lies. He told us that Trump could’ve stopped 400,000 deaths, but Biden is now powerless. If Trump is that powerful, put him back in there now. Give him back his Facebook Twitter, Youtube, Insta Snap, Tweet a Gram, Google Plus, My Space, Tik a Tok, and everything else that banned him, for he is indeed a visionary.

    The fact is, it is only hubris that humans believe they can control nature. Nobody can control it. Viruses have been around since way before humans, and will be here after humans exit the stage. Viral genes make up a large part of our DNA.

    The SARS COV Two virus is going to be around for a long time, probably become endemic if it hasn’t already. But we are going to be under medical tyranny for the rest of our lives. We are now starting the second year of two weeks to flatten the curve. What is the goal now? They don’t know, but they are enjoying their imperial powers that we are willing to cede to them.

  6. Lobo says:


    C.L.: The preposition “ad” takes the accusative case, ergo “ad nauseam”

    The Declension goes like this:


    [Nominative – Genitive – Dative – Accusative – Vocative – Ablative]

    Hochman: The Romans are dead (Was it the lead leaching from their aqueduct water pipes or too many wine-fueled orgies?) and so is their language, but look at their legacy! — Commentators mullusk and perhaps Manny can confirm.

    Not to mention that time-tested instrument of adolescent abuse called LIBER LATINUS with conjugation and declension ad nauseam.


    i know, I know. Mea culpa for the many transgressions of by own when writing in Ameringlish here.

    As a later-in-life lover of Latin, I just couldn’t resist.