The Department of Public Health of Massachusetts declares that the highly contagious strain of COVID-19 with its root in the UK is now anticipated to spread across the globe since most people who have it did not travel. On 14 February 2021, Health authorities stated that several new UK Covid-19 variant cases had been detected, making it 29 known cases collectively.
According to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, just four out of the total 29 cases have evidence of recent travel. This indicates that the majority of cases found in the Bay State are via the community. State health officials advise residents to take ongoing preventive steps to prevent COVID from spreading, which is the best protection against the rapid increase in variant cases.
According to Dr. Mattie Castiel, the Commissioner of Worcester Health and Human Services, this could be the beginning of a third wave. With worries about an increase in cases, experts say that reducing infections is important. Dr. Castiel further says that it’s 50 percent more transmissible. Therefore, they’re trying to combat the U.K. variant. Moreover, during these periods, people must be very careful about washing hands, distancing, and then wearing double masking is especially necessary.
Variants of the Virus that Causes COVID-19
It is believed that via mutation, viruses continuously change, and new variants of a virus are predicted to happen over a period. New variants of coronavirus often emerge and vanish. There are few instants when new variants arise and persevere. Many variants of the virus that prompts coronavirus were discovered in the US, UK, and globally during this COVID-19 pandemic.
Coronavirus is a broad family of viruses that causes the Covid-19. Coronavirus has spikes on its surfaces that are similar to crowns. Scientists monitor changes in the virus, including changes in the spikes on the virus’s surface.
A huge number of variants that cause the COVID-19 are transmitting globally. A few known are below:
- In the fall of 2020, the United Kingdom (UK) reported a variant named B.1.1.7 with many mutations.
- Another variant named B.1.351 appeared independently of B.1.1.7 in South Africa. B.1.351 shares several mutations with B.1.1.7, initially identified at the beginning of October 2020. At the end of January 2021, the US-registered cases were caused by this variant.
- A variant, namely P.1 with its root in Brazil, was first identified in Brazilian passengers at an airport in Japan at the beginning of January during regular screening. At the end of Jan 2021, this variant was primarily diagnosed in the United States. Several further mutations in this variant may reduce its capability to be identified by antibodies.
These variants appear to be expanding more commonly and efficiently than other variants, which may develop more coronavirus cases. A rise in the number of cases will put more pressure on health care resources, head to more hospitalizations and possibly more fatalities.
What is the UK Variant?
The B.1.1.7 variant has various mutations that influence the “spike protein” that connects to human cells on the virus’s surface. This specific strain of coronavirus is perceived to spread more quickly and has caused a plummeted growth of cases in the UK and other multiple nations.
Firstly, this virus was detected in the U.S. at the end of December 2020. Most of the cases were from Florida, i.e., 379. Other than that, California has 184 cases. According to last week’s report, the B.1.1.7 variant is rapidly spreading and could become prominent by late March in the U.S. The research shows that the U.S. is on a similar course to other nations where the variant has already become prevalent.
Furthermore, health officials say that individuals must practice social distancing and mask-wearing to avoid this new virus. Also, stay home if sick.
Prevalence in Massachusetts and other States
The new B.1.1.7 variant was first detected in Massachusetts on Jan. 17. The individual, a woman in her twenties, returned to Boston on Jan. 3. According to the Boston Public Health Commission, she was believed to have waited at Logan International Airport for 2 hours before flying to a different state.
Massachusetts Department of Public Health states that the woman got ill the next day after returning from a tour to the U.K. However, she had examined negative for the virus before leaving the UK. In early Jan 2021, the woman tested positive for coronavirus. Further, the woman became symptomatic.
As part of a protocol set up by the U.S., an out-of-state laboratory took a sample from the woman. Health officials said that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would track the potential spread of the variant, officially named B.1.1.7.
According to the Department of Health, the variant can spread faster than the type of virus in the U.S. In conjunction with academic allies and clinical symptomatic laboratories, the State Public Health Laboratory did the surveillance testing for it in Massachusetts.
On the other hand, there have been 88 total cases of the B.1.1.7 variant in 14 states so far, as per the Department of Health. Two cases of coronavirus were identified in Connecticut over a week ago. Besides, Massachusetts is the 2nd state in New England where it has been reported. The U.K. variant has also been found in Maine, New Hampshire, and other northeast states like New York, New Jersey, and many more.
How Deadly is the B.1.1.7 Variant?
According to data on a British government website, the evidence appears to show that the so-called U.K variant is’ likely’ to be deadlier. Experts link it to a greater risk of death in comparison to other viruses. Moreover, it results in more hospitalizations than non-variant COVID-19 cases. However, this poses serious threats and uncertainties to a new phase of the pandemic.
Moreover, the explanations for the high mortality rate are not fully clear. Some evidence indicates that there could be higher viral loads in people with an infection with the variant. A function that may make the virus more infectious and potentially undermine the efficacy of certain treatments.
Will the Vaccines Help?
There were several vaccines available for the earlier version of the Coronavirus. However, the scientists are still not sure if they will work against the new ones. Some research shows that the E484K may aid the virus escape parts of the immune system called antibodies.
However, Moderna’s early findings indicate that its vaccine is still successful against variants with this mutation, although the body’s immune response may not be as intense or sustained. Earlier findings suggest that the Pfizer vaccine saves against the new variants. But, it now seems less effective.
Two other coronavirus vaccines from Novavax and Janssen may also offer protection against this deadly virus. The data from the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine team also confirms this finding.
Interventions such as washing your hands, maintaining distance from other people, and wearing face-covering are necessary. Additionally, it is important to be extra careful as the new variants seem to spread more quickly.
To conclude, It is believed that to decrease the spread of coronavirus and protect public well-being, extreme care and increased adherence with public health alleviation measures are needed. For example, social distancing, more vaccination, hygiene practices, more use of masks, and quarantine practices are necessary.
In conclusion, new variants can emerge that are different and even more deadly in the future. The best practice involves taking all the precautionary measures.