Dealing with a mutating virus

Writer: Joey Pellegrino
Masked Floridians. Credit: WINK News

The new strain of the coronavirus is easier to pass from person to person, and now scientists are suggesting we take even stronger precautions.

It’s normal for viruses to mutate. In fact, it happens every year with the flu. But medical experts like Bob Hawkes, director of the physician program at Florida Gulf Coast University, are watching these new viral strains closely.

“This new strain is caused by a mutation of the COVID-19 virus which makes it more susceptible for people to become infected by it because the virus, in a technical term, adheres to the person that it’s infecting and allows it to replicate faster,” Hawkes said. “That’s why it becomes more infectious, so in the U.K. this has now become their prevalent strain; it’s probably going to start to happen here in the U.S.”

By March, the Centers for Disease Control indeed predict the U.K. strain will be a predominant strain in the United States. So far, it has infected about 100 people in Florida.

Hawkes says this is no time to let your guard down, even if you’ve received the vaccine. He says our best defense is sticking with the normal precautions: wearing a mask and social distancing.  If you want to take it a step beyond that, some medical experts suggest cutting grocery trips down to 15 minutes or less, to limit your overall contact with others.

Hawkes says the frequency with which viruses mutate means the country could see more variants in the future.

“There is another strain coming out of South Africa that may have a little bit of difference that is still seeing positive effects by the vaccine, but may, as future mutations occur, make it a little bit more challenging,” Hawkes said. “So they are looking at potential boosters for that particular strain, but that strain hasn’t really impacted the United States yet.”

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