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New COVID-19 variant is 70% more contagious, experts say

Posted at 4:17 PM, Dec 29, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-29 18:49:53-05

COLLEGE STATION, TEXAS — A new variant of COVID-19 initially seen in the United Kingdom and other countries has now been detected in a Colorado man. With states beginning to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine, many are wondering if it will protect against any new COVID-19 variant.

This new variant has been spreading across the UK and other countries in recent weeks. Experts says the new strain could make the virus 70% more contagious.

"It's important for people to know in advance that viruses mutate. That's what they do. They require entrance into our cells to be able to survive. As our bodies battle them, they adapt to be able to continue to do what they do," explained Angela Clendenin, an Instructional Assistant Professor of Epidemiology at Texas A&M University.

Clendenin says it's no surprise that SARS-CoV-2 has mutated, but this particular mutation appears to be much more transmissible.

"It does not mean that it is more severe or that it's more fatal for the people that are infected with it, but what it does mean is those people that are infected with it can transmit it to more people," the professor added.

With the new strain spreading quicly, Clendenin says the importance of stopping the spread with proper hand hygiene and social and physical distancing should be front and center.

"The tried-and-true practices that we have been talking about since the very beginning are good hand hygiene, physical distancing, and mask wearing. It's the big super trio in keeping any strain of SARS-CoV-2 at bay," Clendenin said.

The instructor believes having a vaccine is a game-changer and the best tool available.

"Because it helps people who have not already been exposed to the disease develop that antibody response that will help us be protective. The vaccine will only be the game changer that it can be if enough people agree to take it. That's what we need. We need people to get vaccinated if we expect this to work," she concluded.

Many countries across the globe, including Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands, have already imposed travel restrictions similar to recent ones imposed by the UK. Experts say the vaccine will also help with containing the spread of newly discovered variants.

"Fortunately, at least based on evidence we have right now, it does not appear to cause more severe disease and also, from at least preliminary looks, the vaccines should be effective against this variant too," said Dr. Paul Sax, Clinical Director of Infectious Diseases Division at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

While it's not a cause for immediate panic, it is a warning to continue to use caution with public health.

"The fact that is has mutated should not be a cause for panic. The common flu virus, influenza, mutates every single year, which is why we are always constantly having to try and figure out the best match for that season's flu vaccine," Clendenin added.