They keep popping up: COVID-19 variants that are reported to be more contagious, maybe more deadly than the original version that's been pummeling people in the United States.
The COVID-19 variant found in the United Kingdom in December showed up in Kentucky, Gov. Andy Beshear said Thursday. Two Kenton County residents got it. Ohio State University identified a COVID-19 variant this month. And they found another before that. There's the Brazil variant. And another from South Africa.
Along with the news on all these variants, there's been a burst of advice on how to behave. What should we do? Get a new kind of mask? Double up on masks? Stay home?
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We asked a panel of infectious disease experts, Would you do this, doc?
Here's who responded:
- Dr. Emily Simpson, infectious disease specialist, Mercy Health.
- Dr. Robert Frenck, professor of pediatrics for the division of infectious diseases at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.
- Dr. Thomas Lamarre, infectious disease specialist, Christ Hospital.
Here's what we asked and what they said:
If you’re in a home with a family member who gets COVID-19 now, would you do anything different or have your children or others do anything different to stay safe?
Simpson: "No extra precautions inside the home beyond what has previously been recommended."
Frenck: No. "The ways to decrease risk of transmission would be to have the infected person isolate from others as much as possible and to adhere to social distancing."
Lamarre: No. "There are four important tasks when there is family or household member at home suffering with COVID-19. First, help that sick household member with basic needs. Second, watch for warning signs so that if that sick household member worsens you can notify their doctor. Third, isolate that sick household member from others as best as possible. And fourth, everyone in the household – including the sick individual – should wear masks when together and socially distance as much as possible."
Would you keep tabs on every new strain as it develops – if you weren’t an infectious disease expert?
Simpson: "Nope. The virus is constantly mutating, has been from the beginning. Emergence of new viral variants or strains is an expected phenomenon as the pandemic progresses. Most will not prove to be significant for the public."
Frenck: "Mutation is very common among viruses. The mutations we have seen so far remain susceptible to the various vaccines. Also to date, the vaccines still are effective against all the mutants. I don’t think it is helpful for people to try to track viral strains. I do think it is very important that people continue to use precautions and to get vaccinated as soon as you are able."
Lamarre: "I think this is a popular topic and has been widely reported in the media. Knowledge is critical to understanding how local, state and federal governments and public health agencies are dealing with the pandemic. How the government and public health agencies deal with these COVID-19 variants may impact everyone's health. However, I do not want people to overly worry about every single variant – again, mutations are expected and a common occurrence with many viruses."
If not, what would you do to be sure you learn what you need to know?
Simpson: "I listen to trusted sources such as local and state departments of health, the CDC, and Dr. (Anthony) Fauci to keep me updated on significant new strains."
Frenck: "A great website to get up-to-date information is CDC.gov. There are sections for healthcare workers as well as others for the non-medical population."
Lamarre: "I think it is important to follow the news reported on these variants. The CDC also has a … page explaining and tracking major variants that potentially impact the pandemic in the United States."
Would you send your kids to school with double masks or any new strategies to keep safe?
Simpson: "No, I would do nothing new. I would just reinforce what we have been doing for months, like consistently wearing a face mask, maintaining safe distancing, hand washing. I’ll talk to my kids about the way the virus is changing and becoming potentially more contagious so they understand why we’re asking them to be so vigilant with these precautions."
Frenck: "To date, transmission of the virus in school and during school is very low. I don’t think additional precautions are necessary. However, kids should be reminded to be good at wearing their masks."
Lamarre: "The topic of double masking has really gained steam over the past week in the popular media, particularly with Dr. Fauci stating on TV double masking makes common sense. Double masking is without scientific validation.
"Certainly, a surgical mask outperforms a cloth mask in protecting the wearer and those around the wearer. Wearing a surgical mask covered with a cloth mask ... is reasonable and may provide added benefit given the additional layer of protection. However, everyone wearing a single surgical mask correctly – over the nose and under the chin, and left on with talking, coughing and sneezing – in addition to social distancing, avoiding crowds, avoiding inside gatherings... is effective."
Would you double down on staying home?
Simpson: "Maybe. We’ll think twice about any nonessential activities that would put us in contact with others, such as running errands, kid sports. We are still frequently getting takeout from our favorite places while avoiding dining inside restaurants."
Frenck: "I think we need to have people quarantine if they have been exposed. Otherwise, I don’t think there is anything more to do."
Lamarre: "Yes. I think given the rates of COVID-19 in our community, there has never been a more important time to socially distance, avoid crowds and avoid indoor gatherings. Achieving herd immunity – stopping sustained transmission of COVID-19 in our community – and attaining normalcy once again in our lives will be reached sooner if we continue to do our part in preventing spread of COVID-19.
Would you take any other strategic precautions because some of these strains are spreading rapidly?
Simpson: "Nothing else. We just can’t let our guards down right now."
Frenck: "If, until they are able get vaccine, people are very conscientious with social distancing and wearing masks, it will be OK."
Lamarre: "No. While difficult, I think what each of us needs to do is clear. And has not changed. We all need to undergo vaccination when available, wear a mask, socially distance, stay 6 feet apart, avoid crowds and avoid indoor gatherings."