The big topic this week has been the discovery of multiple new mutations of the coronavirus, with the new mutations making the virus significantly more infectious than earlier strains. It is not yet clear exactly how much more infectious the new strains are, but numbers in the range of 50% – 70% more are being bandied about with more certainty than is probably deserved.
We do know two key general things about the new strains, though :
- The first is a person does not need to inhale as many virus particles for an infection to take hold with the new strain.
- The second is an infected person exhales more particles per breath than the earlier strains.
Put those two factors together, and it isn’t a pretty picture.
Two things we’re not yet certain about :
- The new strain is probably not any more dangerous/lethal.
- The new strain will probably still be controlled by the new vaccines just now being released; if not, new versions of the Pfizer and Moderna mRNA type vaccines can fairly quickly be developed and released (3 – 4 months, probably).
And one more thing
- We don’t know for sure if the new strain is more likely to re-infect someone who has already had an earlier infection with a different strain, but it seems likely this may be the case.
So put that all together and what does it mean? Will masks still reduce our risk? Do we need to socially distance more than at present?
To consider the mask question first, let’s look at an example of how masks work (the numbers are totally made up and simplified to illustrate the point). Let’s say a person exhales 100 virus particles with every breath, and that an uninfected person needs to inhale 10 in order to become infected.
So, with no mask, and if very close together, the infected person quickly infects the other person.
Now, let’s say that if both people are wearing masks, then for every 100 virus particles breathed out, only 2 are passed on to the other person – a reduction of 98%. Two particles are less than ten, so no infection is passed on.
Now, with the new virus, let’s say a person breaths out 200 particles with every breath, and a person needs only 5 particles to become infected.
It the mask still reduces 98%, which it would, the uninfected person now gets four instead of two particles, but needs five particles to become infected. Tjhat’s a very marginal situation.
Masks still work, but not nearly as well as before. If one person isn’t wearing a mask, maybe that means the other person’s mask, alone, is insufficient. Or if the two people are standing closer together, or in a crowded indoor environment, or are together for an extended time, the chance of becoming infected, even with both people wearing masks, is much greater than before.
Which points us to the combined answer to the questions about social distancing and mask wearing.
One way to cut down on the number of virus particles presented to you is to keep further away from other people than before, to avoid indoor spaces more, and to limit your time in risky environments even more than before.
Another way is to be more careful about the mask you wear. Don’t buy a fancy patterned mask that looks nice but works poorly. Get a simple generic surgical mask, such as are available at Costco or Amazon, for as little as a quarter a piece, and stretch them out so you have mask from just below your eyes to below your chin. Depending on your face geometry, you might get a better seal if you twist the straps 180° so the top strap of the mask loops around the bottom of your ear, around the back, and then goes from the top of your ear to the bottom of the mask.
Also, be certain to wear the mask correctly. The colored side should be on the outside, and the white side should be next to your skin, and of course, the thin metal strip is at the top, to bend to improve the fit across your nose.
Consider changing them more regularly than you have in the past, too, because they’re probably building up more pieces of blocked virus on them than before.
Here’s an article from earlier in the week about the new strains. It makes great reading, and in particular, raises two points worthy of comment.
Although there have now been new strains identified in South Africa and possibly Nigeria as well as England, it is unfair to say England is where the new mutation occurred. Rather, it is simply that it was first discovered in England, because in England more people are tested to see what strain of the virus they have. This knowledge can be very helpful in understanding how the vaccine is evolving, and where different strains are spreading.
Britain, with a population of 66 million, has tested 3,700 virus samples in December. The US, with 331 million people, has tested 40 samples in the same time period. So there’s a huge probability that new developments will first be detected in Britain. This is another deficiency in our US responses to the virus, and should be addressed.
But the effective “early detection” in England has meant many countries (with public health officials who should of course know better) have raced to ban travel from England to their nations. This is ridiculous, because many of the countries now banning travel from England have already been shown to have cases of the new strains within their borders, and those that don’t will get them, soon enough, if not from England, then from the many other countries that already have it too.
In a tit-for-tat action, Britain – while unhappy with the constraints on travel for its citizens, is now banning travel from South Africa, for the same unreasoning fear.
The other point is that in England alone, 17 different significant mutations, all with greater ability to spread, have been uncovered. With greater numbers of virus cases out there, the potential of the virus to mutate is growing in similar proportion. Who only knows what the next new mutation may be.
If you’ve been a bit anxious about the new mRNA type vaccines, you might be reassured to learn that traditional type vaccines might be available fairly soon. On the other hand, they might not be as effective as the mRNA vaccines, and might be more quickly circumvented by new strains of the virus. This is an interesting article about how the mRNA vaccines were developed so quickly and why traditional vaccines have been slower to get to market.
Maine (discussed below) has dropped a place in the case rate list, and Wisconsin has moved off the list, being replaced by new bad-boy state, Utah.
Europe continues to be overrepresented on the minor country list, and Qatar has dropped off the list, being replaced by Panama.
On the major country list, the Czech Republic slightly extended its lead on the US. On the death list, the US inches closer to the UK, while Czechia is closing the gap in turn with the US.
US Best and Worst States
|A week ago||Now||A week ago||Now|
|1 Best||VT (9,854)||VT (10,867)||VT (168)||VT (192)|
|5||NH (25,199)||NH (28,610)||OR (299)||OR (335)|
|47||WI (77,020)||UT (81,283)||CT (1,557)||CT (1,624)|
|51 Worst||ND (116,871)||ND (119,345)||NJ (2,048)||NJ (2,103)|
Top Case Rates Minor Countries (cases per million)
|Rank||One Week Ago||Today|
|1||Andorra (96,557)||Andorra (99,567)|
|4||San Marino||San Marino|
|5||French Polynesia||French Polynesia|
|10||Slovenia (49,081)||Panama (51,451)|
Top Case Rates Major Countries (cases per million)
|Rank||One Week Ago||Today|
|1||Czech Republic (56,204)||Czech Republic (61,618)|
|2||USA (53,108)||USA (57,575)|
|12||Poland (30,979)||Poland (32,781)|
Top Death Rate Major Countries (deaths per million)
|Rank||One Week Ago||Today|
|1||Belgium (1,590)||Belgium (1,649)|
|5||UK (971)||UK (1,023)|
|6||USA (958)||USA (1,015)|
|7||Czech Republic (936)||Czech Republic (1,005)|
|10||Mexico (894)||Mexico (928)|
I Am Not a Doctor, But….
I mentioned above that it seems likely these new more infectious virus strains, while possibly sneaking past any immunity built up from a past infection, might be stopped by the new vaccines. We’ll have to wait a while to know for sure – the US Army is investigating the British strains. Presumably they’ll turn to the South African strains next.
It does feel unfair referring to the British strains as such. As also mentioned above, just because they were first discovered in the UK doesn’t mean that’s where they originated from. And, as this article points out, not only are these new strains probably already active in the US, but they might have even originated here. But we’re not “gene sequencing” enough infected people to keep a track on all the strains active in our country, so we don’t know.
Here’s an interesting article that exposes some of the inaccuracies and uncertainties in testing. Remember, a negative test means nothing more than “four or five or six days before you were tested, you probably had not been infected by the virus”. It doesn’t mean you don’t have the virus at the time of the test, and it doesn’t mean you won’t get infected in five minutes time. On the other hand, a positive test doesn’t guarantee you have the virus, but it means you might have, or have recently had, the virus. If possible, you should be retested to see if you can get two tests in a row to show the same result.
Here’s information on two new tests. This one doesn’t tell us what the cost will be, and, sorry, 48 hours is ridiculously long to have to wait for results. So we place that one in the “fail” column.
But this one is promising. $30 is close to a realistic price, and a test you can do at home and get results from in 20 minutes is “just what the doctor ordered”. Best of all, you don’t need a doctor’s prescription to buy the test – when it is in full commercial production it will be freely available at drugstores and other outlets.
The list of really nasty virus outcomes continues to lengthen. How about this – losing a foot as a result of the virus!
And this is a fascinating article about the virus and sleep issues. It raises the possible benefit of melatonin (something we cover in our book), and discusses how the virus can pass into the brain, causing various very nasty additional symptoms and problems, and possibly damaging/killing nerve cells. The brain infestation is amplified in this article.
We need to cast our research far and wide when looking for clues and possible treatments, and the news that cats recover very quickly from a Covid infection might point to something special cats have that fights the virus.
Unsurprisingly, we’ve heard a great deal about the two now approved vaccines (although it bears repeating that their approvals are “emergency use” approvals, not open unqualified approvals). But there are plenty more vaccines, either already approved in other countries, or likely to be approved in the very near future.
China in particular has, I think, two vaccines already approved, and another two in final trials. Strangely, that claimed status clashes with this item about a Chinese company buying 100 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine. One wonders why – on the one hand, they’re exporting their own vaccines to other countries, but on the other hand, they’re buying in the Pfizer vaccine.
Bill Gates expects there to be six Covid vaccines available by spring. We agree.
Here’s an article we find worrying. It says it is crucial that news outlets “get it right” when describing problems with the vaccines. But “crucial to get it right” sounds a lot to us like a demand that news outlets ignore bad news and concentrate on painting an exclusively rosy picture of the vaccines.
There was a time when getting it right meant accurately and completely explaining an issue without any bias. These days “getting it right” has come to mean exactly the opposite.
Here’s an example, perhaps, of an article that “gets it right”. Immunity to the virus could last for up to eight months after infection, the article happily tells us.
But there’s that awkward phrase, “up to”. That includes all periods of time shorter than 8 months, but no periods of time longer. Plus there’s the issue of whether 8 months is a very long time or not, as well. Sure, it is better than 7 months, but 9 months would be nicer still….
The pressure on people to “voluntarily” be vaccinated continues to grow, and will likely grow considerably stronger. This latest example is the potential requirement for people to show a vaccination certificate before being allowed on public transport.
Timings And Numbers
After reporting 19 states with dropping rates of new case counts on Sunday, rt.live showed an improvement on Monday with 23 states seeing their daily numbers falling, growing to 25 on Tuesday and Wednesday, before easing back to 23 again today.
Maine has been the clear loser state this week, being the state with the highest growth rate on three of the four days, and coming second on the fourth day. This is particularly surprising because, historically, and as can be seen in the US state table above, Maine has had one of the lowest rates of the virus. But, as can also be seen, it has slipped from second to third in that table, but it has a long way to go before it catches Oregon and risks dropping further down to fourth.
Yet again, it is astonishing to view the huge disparity in case rates between the least and worst affected of our states – a more than ten-fold range.
Logic? What Logic?
The US continues to set new daily records for the number of people dying of the virus, but there’s none so blind as those who will not see. We truly don’t understand how people can be so blind to the observable reality, and are embarrassed to see a town in our home state of WA on the list of virus-deniers.
But much worse are the suggestions that a Health and Human Services science advisor advocated getting people infected with the virus to accelerate a build-up of herd immunity. Look back up at the article above – herd immunity might only last for “up to” 8 months (and some studies suggest even less than that). Herd immunity is not a valid solution or strategy.
Meanwhile, the CDC is shifting from being focused on maximizing the number of lives it can help save, and now it prefers to use “social justice” concepts in how vaccines and other scarce resources should be allocated. Tough if you’re an old white guy in bad health, but great if you’re the opposite to those three demographic characteristics.
Saving lives (especially of older people) is no longer the CDC’s top priority. See : How the Centers for Disease Control Went Woke
Here’s a study that affirms masks are important. They block 99.9% of large Covid-linked droplets, the study claims. A small voice in the background asks “but aren’t aerosol particles massively smaller, and possibly a greater risk?” But stating that clearly in the article would be a case of not “getting it right”, I guess.
And this article tends to confirm that masks, alone, are far from a total solution.
While we still need a bit more reassurance about these new vaccines, we’re nowhere near as concerned as Brazil’s President appears to be, and find it hard to share his belief that being vaccinated would risk us turning into a crocodile or bearded lady!
Please stay happy and healthy; all going well, I’ll be back again on Sunday.