The COVID-19 outbreak in the United States has been horrific and tragic to watch over the past few months. But as bad as things are, it could get even worse.
Mutant variants of the novel coronavirus first detected in the United Kingdom and South Africa are likely to be present across much of the U.S. already. Although only a few cases of these strains have been identified in the country so far, they could spread significantly over the coming weeks according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The Potential to Accelerate Exponential Spread
More infectious variants of the coronavirus have transmitted rapidly through South Africa and the U.K. They've also been found as far and wide as Brazil and Japan. And as they gain footholds in the U.S., medical experts fear that this could catalyze even more devastation during what has already been an overwhelming health crisis in the country.
Scientists have watched with shock and horror as the pandemic variants catalyzed new outbreaks in other countries. But similar outbreaks in the U.S. could represent an unprecedented stage of the crisis. The country has had an average of more than 250,000 new infections every single day recently, with some of those days recording over 4,000 deaths. It's difficult to fathom how much these new variants could accelerate what's already considered an exponential spread in America.
Such a surge in infections would put healthcare leaders in the hard predicament of deciding how to allocate staff and resources. Many medical facilities would also have to weigh out options about what to do if patient capacity is exceeded, as we've seen in some hospitals already. And none of these issues really touch upon the economic effect that the spread of these variants would have.
Now Is Our Chance to Contain the COVID-19 Variants
On the bright side of this bleak crisis, epidemiologists do think that the U.S. still has a chance to mitigate the widespread transmission of the variants. But doing so depends on several components.
Public health authorities must expand testing and genomic sequencing to detect where the variants are starting to gain a presence. They must also prioritize contact tracing and quarantining to stop chains of transmission in their tracks.
Stymying the spread of the COVID-19 variants also depends on each American doing everything they can to stay protected. That includes getting vaccinations, wearing face mask protection, practicing social distancing, and frequently sanitizing.
All of these efforts would be no small feat. The variants have arrived at a time when our healthcare industry is exhausted from current cases and the public is fatigued from adhering to COVID-19 precautions for almost a year already.
More Details on the Two COVID-19 Variants
SARS-CoV-2 is the specific strain that has caused the current COVID-19 crisis. It has been mutating throughout the entire pandemic. But it has become clear that two variants of the virus are much more contagious than earlier iterations.
One of the variants, 501Y.V2 or B.1.351, was first found in South Africa. It has since been detected in approximately a dozen other countries. The second variant, B.1.1.7, was first spotted in the U.K. It's now present in more than 30 other countries. B.1.1.7 has already been confirmed in Indiana, Connecticut, and Maryland just over the past couple of weeks. And experts believe that B.1.351 is likely to be here as well.
At this point, there's no evidence indicating that these variants cause more or less severe COVID-19 infections. But that shouldn't discredit the dangers that more contagious variants like these carry, according to Boston Children's Hospital computational epidemiologist Maia Majumder: "Even if B.1.1.7 (or some other more transmissible variant) isn’t any more likely to cause severe disease or death, we may see a larger volume of deaths in its presence simply because there will likely be more infections than there would be without it."
The Mayo Clinic in Arizona has already had to deal with surging COVID-19 patient cases recently. Ayan Sen, the chair of critical care medicine at the facility, says that an increase in numbers from the variants would lead to the need for more ICU space. Such a surge "would certainly affect patients who need care for reasons other than Covid — surgery, or cancer. It has a domino effect."
We Must All Do Our Part
We know how disheartening the news of contagious COVID-19 variants is. With news of vaccine rollouts, it seems that the world was starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel for this crisis. But it's more imperative than ever before that we all do our part to mitigate the spread of this pandemic.
Please continue to wear coronavirus protection such as face masks or neck gaiters when you venture outside into the public. Keep practicing social distancing and avoiding crowded areas, especially indoors. Wash your hands frequently, and carry hand sanitizer — you never know when you might touch something that's risky or unclean, so it can definitely help in a pinch.
If you need a new supply of face masks, consider Dotted Line Manufacturing. We have a new filter layer that provides a particle filtration efficiency (PFE) greater than 90%. It can be added to any of our face masks, which are washable, reusable, and customizable with full-color dye-sublimation printing.
We're all in this together. So let's all do our part to get to the end of this pandemic.
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