New COVID-19 variant could become dominant strain by March 2021: CDC

*The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in a fresh report indicates the new Coronavirus mutation could experience ‘rapid growth’ in the United States in the next few months

*Health experts suggest the use of high-filtration (Hi-Fi) masks like N95 masks as the best protection against these small particles from the new Coronavirus strain

Isola Moses | ConsumerConnect

As the new COVID-19 strain rages in several locations across the world, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in a new report has predicted that the new variant, which was first detected in the United Kingdom (UK) December 2020, could become the dominant strain in the country by March 2021.

Health officials stated the new and more easily transmissible variant, known as B.1.1.7, has already landed in at least 10 states in the US, while same variant has been found in other countries, including Brazil, Nigeria and South Africa, agency report said.

Research has shown that it could experience “rapid growth” during the first months of 2021.

The health and disease control agency said: “Multiple lines of evidence indicate that B.1.1.7 is more efficiently transmitted than are other SARS-CoV-2 variants,” the CDC said.

The agency said the new strain “warrants universal and increased compliance with mitigation strategies, including distancing and masking.

“Higher vaccination coverage might need to be achieved to protect the public.”

In maintaining the existing precautionary measures in view of the fact that the new strain has been found to spread more rapidly, health experts are urging people not to cut corners with health precautions.

Dr. Ali Mokdad with the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, said: “Any risky behaviour right now means we’re going to see more cases.

“We need to take care of it through vaccination and then we can go back to normal, but please – contain your urge to go back to normal.”

Although the new variant is more contagious, it is not believed to react differently to vaccines than the strain that appeared in early 2020, report noted.

Research has also suggested that Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine can protect people against the mutation.

BioNTech Co-Founder Ugur Sahin said December 2020, that “scientifically, it is highly likely that the immune response by this vaccine also can deal with the new virus variant.

Sahin is optimistic that BioNTech can quickly produce an effective vaccine for the new strain since its proteins are 99 percent the same as the original version.

The United States is currently vaccinating the most vulnerable individuals, including those in nursing homes and first responders.

However, as of Saturday, January 16, only about 12 million vaccine doses had been administered on the population as Donald Trump administration was preparing to leave office.

Health officials, therefore, continue to recommend that consumers wear a mask, social distance, and practise good hygiene to curb the spread of the virus.

To guard against the newly discovered COVID-19 variant, some health experts have equally recommended upgrading from a cloth mask to a high-filtration (Hi-Fi) mask, like an N95.

Likewise, authors of a recent Op-Ed piece in medical publication STAT News wrote: “While most masks provide some level of protection for the wearers and those around them, many masks, including the widely used cloth and surgical masks, only partially filter the small COVID-19-spreading particles known as aerosols that people emit when coughing, sneezing, breathing, and talking.

“As demonstrated in a recent study, high-filtration (Hi-Fi) masks like N95 masks are the best protection against these small particles.”

The publication further noted as the country continues to roll out vaccines against the virus, a cost-effective measure would include providing every household with these so-called Hi-Fi masks, especially since government health officials expect the new virus variant to quickly spread throughout the US.

In regard to N95 masks that work best, according to AirQueen, a manufacturer of Hi-Fi masks, the firm stresses these masks filter out 95 percent of infectious particles.

These masks have offered “complete protection for many healthcare providers who directly treat COVID patients,” said AirQueen.

The company says medium filtration masks include surgical masks with 67 percent filtration and triple layer cloth masks with 50 percent protection. Low filtration includes loosely woven single layer cotton masks with as low as 5 percent protection.

ConsumerConnect reports most of the masks consumers wear in public are not rated N95.

Though cloth masks protect people around the wearer if the person happens to be infected, it was gathered that they are less effective at protecting the wearer if someone nearby, not wearing any face covering, is sick and sneezes in their direction.

In November 2020, the CDC had urged the American public to stick with cloth masks and leave N95 masks to the professionals.

Thus, with a new highly-transmissible strain of the coronavirus on the loose, that advice could change in the weeks ahead.

Dr. Bob Arnot, a medical journalist and author, said: “With the rapid spread of this COVID variant and airborne nature, the Hi-Fi mask offers vital enhanced protection for the general public.

“This is especially true for front line workers from teachers to firemen who have not been able to obtain this high level of protection.”

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