#So how much more transmissible? #We aren’t completely sure yet, but the initial estimates from the data suggest that this variant could be about 50 to 70 percent more transmissible than regular COVID-19. #To make matters thornier, we aren’t yet exactly sure why it’s more transmissible, though reasonable theories are already being tested. #This variant, now called B.1.1.7, has “an unusually large number of genetic changes, particularly in the spike protein,” which is how the virus gains entry into our cells. The new variant may be better at eluding our immune response and replicating, or be able to better bind to locations in our body more conducive to infecting others, but that is all speculative for the moment.
#This uncertainty in understanding the variant’s exact mechanisms means that we don’t know if our existing tools—masks, distancing, and disinfecting—are as effective as they were compared with an identical scenario with the regular variant. #To be clear: The variant is still a respiratory virus, so the basic tools will not change, and they will all continue to work. #In fact, they have become more important, but we may need to be stricter—less time indoors, better masks, better ventilation, more disinfection of high-touch surfaces—to get the same bang for our protective buck. #It may be a small difference, or not. #We don’t know. #We won’t know for a while.
#Given that this new variant is already here in #America, are we too late? #No, but we are on our back foot. The #United #States does not have extensive genomic surveillance, or a rapid turnaround with what surveillance it has, so in some ways, we are flying without a map. #We have some indications that the variant is—so far—probably relatively rare in the #United #States.
#This could, of course, change extremely quickly, before we can even detect that change, but that highlights the importance of early action. #In addition to the threat of exponential growth, we must remember that this pathogen is quite overdispersed—meaning some people seem to cause many infections, while many do not transmit it at all (though these ratios may change as well). #Early on, there was a lot of hand-wringing about why some #European cities were very badly hit while others were spared—spared only until later, it often turned out—despite similar policies. The answer could be just a bit of bad luck and a few weeks of delay: #For exponential processes, small initial differences can mean gargantuan differences in the long run, and we are not helpless.
#We can and should deploy whatever weapons we have in our arsenal, as soon as possible. #If public-health officials can accelerate our ability to detect the new variant, they must. “You could imagine case-based interventions specifically targeting the early variant-transmission chains,” #Bedford told me. “I wouldn’t expect to contain them, but I could imagine buying a week or two.”
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