A more contagious strain of COVID-19 has been found in California and experts fear that the new variant could soon produce more cases and hospitalizations throughout the state.
So far, the mutated virus, known as B117, has been found in at least 33 countries and eight states.
Dr. Shannon Bennett, the chief of science at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, has been studying the new COVID-19 strain and the evolution of the virus since the start of the pandemic.
“Intellectually, it’s been an incredibly fascinating time to watch this virus emerge and evolve and change,” Dr. Bennett said.
But personally, she says it’s been disheartening to watch COVID-19 spread at alarming rates.
“This virus is really, really transmissible, this new strain, and while it’s not as common right now, it can very quickly become common,” Dr. Bennett added.
Dr. Bennet explains the new COVID-19 variant was first identified in the U.K. in mid-September and has been spreading at a much higher rate than the original strain.
“This virus is at least 50% more effective at transmitting than the virus we were dealing with last March,” Dr. Bennett said.
She says wearing a mask and avoiding indoor gatherings have never been more crucial, especially in places like Southern California, where dozens of cases of the more infectious strain have been reported.
“As a society, we don’t have enough compliance on any of those measures so we really need to stay the course, revisit those measures and stick to them,” Dr. Bennett said.
According to the data Bennett has analyzed, the new strain is more transmissible, but symptoms do not appear to be more severe.
“We don’t have any evidence to suggest that the vaccine wouldn’t still be protective. There aren’t enough changes in this strain,” she said. “It takes a long time to accumulate enough differences.”
However, one of Dr. Bennett’s main concerns is the increasing distrust of science by many Americans.
“The science is really clear. The reason we’re not getting the best of this virus is because we haven’t been following the science and the science says take in those practices like wear your mask and not gathering indoors,” Dr. Bennett explained.
She believes California can get the virus under control in 2021, but is adamant that everyone must do their part to socially distance and take the vaccine when it becomes available.