Scientists monitor new COVID-19 mutations as death toll rises in US

Scientists monitor new COVID-19 mutations as death toll rises in US

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Today, the United States hit a devastating new threshold for COVID-19 related deaths, crossing over 400,000 lives lost.

This, as we near the one year mark since our country detected its first case. Now, we’re seeing new variants pop up in multiple states.

A mutation that’s even faster and more easily spread than what we’ve already experienced, that’s what health leaders are monitoring as two new variants have appeared in the UK and South Africa. One of those mutations has already made its way to the United States.

“With a more effectively transmitted virus, everything that we’re doing becomes more important,” said Dr. Helmut Albrecht of the Medical Director of Infectious Disease Research and Policy for the University of South Carolina Prisma Health. “Masking, social distancing, hand hygiene, avoiding crowds is even more important with more transmissible viruses.”

There hasn’t been an announcement about the detection of the variants in South Carolina, but Albrecht says, that doesn’t mean the mutations are not here.

“We haven’t found it, that doesn’t mean that it’s not here,” said Albrecht. “It’s definitely here, and we will find some in the next days and weeks.”

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The CDC says there’s currently no evidence the new strains are more deadly, but the increase in case numbers that can come from the faster spread may lead to more hospitalizations and deaths. Dr. Albrecht says a speedy vaccine rollout would be helpful in stopping the mutations from developing so quickly.

“It’s important that we come up with a better plan than we have now to get the vaccine into patient’s arms before we see these vaccine escape mutants,” he said.

Albrecht says although the vaccine rollout has been slow, we’re seeing the light at the end of the tunnel...now we just have to keep doing the right things to get there.

“I know everybody’s fed up with this,” he said. “As am I. I wear a mask all day, and who wants to do that, who wants to see that...but the answer is we have to. Especially if there are new variants out there.”

Dr. Albrecht says that, so far, none of the variants seem to be able to escape the vaccine. He also said that current tests don’t have a problem detecting the known variants.

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