What You Need to Know About COVID-19 Variants
Get the facts on COVID-19 variants from Jeffery Hatcher, MD, Chief Medical Officer, Wesley Long Hospital, in this 2 Your Well-Being discussion with WFMY News 2.
What are the current major variants of COVID-19? Which have reached North Carolina?
“Major variants right now are the UK strain, the South African strain, and there's also a Brazilian strain. It’s hard to say right now [which strains have reached North Carolina], but the CDC estimates the UK strain makes up about 1 to 2% of the population of the viruses that are in the United States and that's expected to increase to it being the predominant strain by mid-March."
What makes some strains more contagious?
“So it has a mutation in the S protein, the spike, and that spike mutation allows it to bind to cells with much more affinity so that it grabs on to them and holds on to it much more strongly. So that part is grabbing on to a receptor that's on human tissue, especially in the lung tissue.”
How many masks should we wear to protect against this new strain?
“So the CDC sort of waivered on this, they came out and said that maybe two masks is better, but then they backtracked and said really just using better masks, using one better mask, is probably the better way to go. So having a good medical grade mask is probably the best thing you can wear right now.”
If we have homemade masks, should we double them up?
“Probably. The quality of the homemade masks have been really variable. There are lots of great homemade masks, including ones that were sewn so that you can slide a filter into them, but that's part of the problem is that the quality of them is variable… if you're looking for a standard or a guideline from an organization like the CDC, they're going to try to refer you to something that has some standardization around it.”
Are some people at higher risk of complications from of the new variant?
“Not necessarily. So the risk of complications between the two, between the wild type and the variants, is exactly the same. There is some question that this UK variant might have a higher risk of mortality, but I think it's unclear yet as to whether that's because there are more cases from it or if there's something different about the virus that is increasing that risk of mortality.”
Is the testing process any different now because of the new strains, or is it the same as it has always been?
The testing process exactly the same. The trick is that the testing doesn't tell you what kind of virus you have. So to find that out, the county and the state take random samples of tests that are done and send them off and do testing on them to do some sort of epidemiological leg work to figure out what kinds of viruses are circulating in our community.”
If there's a spike in COVID cases or hospitalizations, could it be caused by new variants or would it more likely be caused by people becoming less vigilant about COVID-19 safety?
“Right now, it would probably be more likely from [people being less vigilant about] the three Ws. We've seen a big drop off in the number of cases we've had from a peak of almost 300 people in the Cone Health system in early January to under 140 today, [February 8, 2021]. A lot of that is that we're not having big social gatherings like we were having in late fall - so our Thanksgiving or Christmas.”
Will the current vaccines work against the new strains?
Yes. So the two vaccines that are most commonly used in our community - the Pfizer vaccine and the Moderna vaccine - both have efficacy against the newer strains. As far as the African strain, we think that it has efficacy against those. One of the other vaccines, the Astrazeneca vaccine, has recently been shown to not have good efficacy against the South African strain, so that's been pulled out of the trials in South Africa.”
Are there other steps that we should take to protect ourselves from catching or spreading this new strain?
“It’s sticking to our three Ws, which are wait six feet apart, wash your hands and wear your mask.”