Ask An Epidemiologist: What Do New COVID-19 Variants Mean For My Daily Life?


As New York Metropolis approaches the one-year mark of shutting down throughout a world pandemic, positivity charges for the virus are nonetheless too excessive to return to life as we knew it. New variants of the coronavirus virus at the moment are circulating within the U.S., together with right here within the metropolis. On Friday, the U.Ok. introduced its variant is doubtlessly 30% deadlier than the unique pressure and spreads as much as 70% quicker. Different variations of the virus are flourishing in Brazil and South Africa. What do these new variants of COVID-19 imply for safeguarding ourselves throughout day by day life? We requested Stephen Morse, an epidemiologist at Columbia College, and Saskia Popescu, an epidemiologist at George Mason College in Virginia.

On Masks

Morse: For the varied material masks we’re utilizing, there aren’t but any actual requirements (resembling filtration effectivity), and it’s troublesome to advise folks when there are such a lot of totally different varieties.  In a perfect world, we’d have N95s (which give one of the best safety in opposition to an infection) for everybody, and everybody would know the right way to use them correctly.  However we’re not in that splendid world, and anyway, N95s aren’t for everyone.  Individuals with respiration difficulties usually shouldn’t be carrying them, for instance.  Males can’t have facial hair, because it interferes with the match.  Proper now, N95s are briefly provide, even for the frontline healthcare employees who want them probably the most.   

Nevertheless, used correctly, nearly any masks is healthier than none. Skilled PPE wearers know the significance of correct match.  Most of the people typically neglects this, however plenty of current research present that ensuring the masks matches your face nicely, with none gaps, will tremendously enhance the efficiency of even the cheap blue “surgical” (process) masks you see in all places.  There are a number of YouTube movies exhibiting the right way to use rubber bands or different tips to make these masks work higher.

No matter masks you’re utilizing, it’s essential to not get a way of false safety and to watch out whenever you take your masks off.  You’ve heard this many occasions, however it bears repeating: Keep away from touching the entrance of the masks, and at all times wash your fingers after eradicating your masks.  It could appear stunning, however even healthcare professionals make errors whereas doffing (taking off) their N95, and these errors have resulted in an infection for the wearer.

Layering masks is ok if the masks are nonetheless snug and match nicely.  If I’m carrying a cotton material masks, I’ll usually put on a blue surgical masks beneath (which additionally makes the within of the material masks extra snug for me).

On Face Shields

Morse: Don’t neglect eye safety!  Face shields are a superb, added precaution, particularly when distancing is troublesome, for instance in shops or mass transit.  Face shields ought to at all times be worn with masks, as they don’t present adequate respiratory safety by themselves.  I believe many individuals have prevented them as a result of they give the impression of being humorous (till we get used to seeing them).  

On Distancing

Morse: These variants are extra transmissible as a result of they’ve mutations of their S, or spike, a protein that enables the virus to connect higher to our cells.  When you could have this a lot circulation of the coronavirus, evolving to higher transmission just isn’t very stunning.  The vaccines nonetheless appear to be simply as efficient with these variants, however we will’t take that without any consideration ceaselessly.  It is a good motive to forestall as many infections as we will within the first place.

Discover that our influenza charges are down, too. That is not a coincidence. All these precautions have been initially advisable for flu pandemics.

Popescu: Six ft of separation is the minimal, in order that’s at all times the purpose. But when you are able to do extra, go for it!

On Hygiene

Morse: The brand new variants actually shouldn’t require a change in hygiene practices if we’re doing this stuff nicely to start with.  Simply maintain them up!  Some folks could really feel unsure and ramp them up for reassurance.  Bear in mind, the primary goal of the hygienic precautions is to keep away from having something contaminated with the virus (that are most frequently fingers) are available contact along with your nostril, mouth, or eyes.  You additionally need to forestall virus-laden particles from getting into your respiration area.  That’s the primary perform of masks and distancing, however hygiene may also help.

Popescu: Routine cleansing and disinfection are nonetheless essential. However these are simply two items of an infection prevention, and they need to be executed along side masking and social distancing. I deal with my groceries the identical method I did pre-COVID, which means that I don’t wipe them down with disinfectants. However, I do routine cleansing, wash perishables, and in addition use hand hygiene.

On Errands

Morse: Proceed avoiding crowded indoor locations as a lot as doable, and attempt to be fast, and cautious, when going to locations just like the grocery retailer.  Attempt to maintain these journeys to a minimal, identical as earlier than. But when you must make a grocery run, then simply make sure that to put on a masks, distance, be conscious of not touching your face, and clear your fingers routinely. I additionally encourage folks to go throughout off-hours.