Covid Catchup: All the Developments You May Have Missed
The latest and most concerning pandemic revelations, in brief
Given Covid fatigue, you’re excused if you cut down on doomscrolling and tried to ignore the bad pandemic news as 2020 wound down. But welcome to 2021. Covid-19 hospitalizations and deaths continue rising in the United States and elsewhere, vaccine rollouts are proceeding slower than hoped, and a post-holiday surge in cases looms.
Here are brief summaries of several important recent developments and ominous trends:
Coronavirus mutant strains are everywhere
As viruses routinely do, SARS-CoV-2 has been gathering mutations since its emergence a year ago. Most have proven benign and largely unimportant, but recently evolved strains, including in England and South Africa, are up to 70% more infectious, mounting evidence indicates.
The most widespread and concerning mutated strain is the U.K. version called B.1.1.7. Its spike proteins, the protrusions you’ve seen on countless illustrations, bind more readily with human cells, allowing it easier entry. The strain has been found in California, Colorado, Florida, New York, and 33 countries, and is expected to spread swiftly and widely.
So far, the mutated strains are not causing more severe symptoms in those who are infected, nor do they raise the risk of death in an infected person. Experts also say the relatively minor viral evolutions are not enough to render current vaccines less effective, and Covid-detecting tests should still work.
But the higher transmissibility means prevention efforts are more important than ever, both to stop new cases from spiraling and to help thwart further mutations. “The potential for virus mutation increases with the frequency of human and animal infections,” states the World Health Organization (WHO).
U.S. deaths could skyrocket
The ongoing high rate of new cases and rise in the U.S. Covid-19 hospitalizations guarantee an ongoing increase in deaths, above the current running average of 2,600 per day. But assuming the virus becomes more transmissible due to mutations, deaths could skyrocket, given a…