Some of you might have seen this post that I wrote on January 24 about double-masking, printed as an article in the February 19 Jewish Press.
New in the 4 weeks since this prior Facebook post (and therefore not included in the JPress article) -- the US now has four actively circulating variant strains of SARS-CoV2. I want to emphasize that even as we as a community are beginning to be vaccinated, this virus is sneaky and clever, and we all -- even those of us who are fully vaccinated -- need to keep wearing masks.
What the variants have in common: they are more infectious, and possibly more harmful. So far it appears that the vaccines still work against the current common variants, but the implications of rapid mutation accumulation mean that we need to get our vaccine effort revved up as soon as possible to reduce circulation of the virus. Why? Viruses mutate while they replicate, and the only place these viruses replicate is inside of people who are infected. Therefore, if we can quickly reduce the number of new infections, we can reduce the further mutations that could lead to eventual problems with the vaccine being able to prevent disease.
What does it mean that they are more infectious? The new variants might be able to infect people at a lower concentration than the original virus was.
Here's an easy way to understand that: these variants are "stickier" than the original, kind of like if the new virus were covered in super glue, whereas the older version of the virus only had the post-it-note stickiness. It takes far fewer super-sticky viral particles at exposure to get one to attach and start an infection, where it might have taken exposure to multiple post-it-note stickiness for one of them to take hold and start an infection.
What a lot of these "super sticky" variants have in common is a mutation which makes the virus bind more tightly to human cells, which makes them more infectious. What makes them more dangerous is that they seem to be able to evade some kinds of antibodies, too.
So, the lesson repeats: we need to prevent new infections with everything we have in our tool box. An easy toolbox pick: DOUBLE MASKS, for all the reasons I listed in my original post from January 24. You will decrease exposure with tighter fitting, doubled layers of mask. Use a standard disposable medical/ surgical mask on the base layer, and a snug-fitting, multiple-ply, tightly woven cotton fabric mask on top. You can knot the ear loops near the edge of the mask to make the sides of your mask conform better to your face, especially if your face is small.
More about SARS-CoV2 variants, if you're still reading at this point, and are interested: B.1.1.7. is the variant first noted by rapid spread through the UK and is present as the dominant variant spreading through the US. It is now present in more than 33 states, and was noted first on the east coast.
B.1.351 is the variant first documented in South Africa, and is now in the US. It first showed up in NC and IL, but is now spreading through the US, but not yet in as many states as the B117 variant.
P.1. emerged in Brazil, and was first noted in the US in MN but is also in other states, though as of right now, far fewer states than either B117 or B1.351.
Last, but certainly not least, is the B.1.427/429, also is called CAL.20C, which is the variant that tore through Southern California in the last 6-8 weeks. It was first noted in Denmark. It has, as of right now, not yet spread through other states in the US.