A new study was released by scientists at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, who were assisted in their research by scientists at Duke University and the University of Sheffield in England, has found a new strain of COVID-19. The team analyzed over 6,000 coronavirus sequences from across the globe, which were gathered by the Global Initiative for Sharing All Influenza Data (an organization based in Germany). With computer assistance, the researchers were able to identify 14 mutations to the nearly 30,000 base pairs of RNA that make up COVID-19’s genome.
The main mutation that the scientists focused on was one that is responsible for changes in the virus’ spikes, called D614G. The concern is spikes are what allows the virus to enter respiratory cells of humans. The mutation seems to make it easier for the virus to do this. The data points out that the new strain appears to be more infectious than the original strain from Wuhan, but further study is needed to confirm exactly how this is happening the researchers say. According to the data, the new strain has been the dominant one in the world since mid-March. It first appeared in Europe in February and quickly came to the East Coast of the United States.
The report breaks down not only when the new strain emerged, but where and how long it took to become dominant. Washington state was initially infected by the original virus in February, but by mid-March, the new strain had become more prevalent. New York City had the original virus as well, but the new strain became main source of infections within just a few days. These, and other, variations had led many scientists to wonder if there were more than one strain of virus circulating. Potentially, it could explain why there has been differences throughout the world, and our country, as to why there are higher rates of infection and death in some parts and not others.
The study still needs to be peered reviewed, but the researchers wanted to get the information out so scientific groups that are working on treatments or vaccines have the latest information. Currently, the research being conducted in these areas is using data from genetic sequences of earlier strains. This means that the treatments or vaccines that are created might not be effective against the new strain. There is concern that as the weather continues to warm, the virus will continue to mutate, which will further complicate matters when it comes to finding a treatment or vaccine. In addition, there is also a possibility that mutations can make the virus different enough from earlier versions that people can easily be infected a second time with the mutated strain.
This news comes as places, like New York City, Chicago and New Orleans, are seeing improvements in their daily number of cases and deaths. However, this doesn’t mean we’re on the other side of the pandemic yet. Not even close because new outbreaks are emerging in other places throughout the country. Part of this increase in cases, and deaths, is because they’re occurring in areas that were less impacted before is the result of social distancing restrictions being eased in these areas and people are now interacting with one another. This has led many experts to warn that new hot spots won’t be far behind. Another factor is that as some areas improve testing, we’re getting a more accurate picture of exactly how widespread the pandemic is.
Currently, there are over 25,000 new cases a day, which means that number is increasing 2 – 4% daily. In looking at a graph representation of the daily number of cases, it’s easy to see that the country is on an upward trend. New areas of outbreak are appearing daily, in places like nursing homes, rural communities, factories and prisons. As states are reopening, a Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) model shows that there will be a 20% increase in cases. However, due to the time it takes for the virus to spread and incubate, it could take up to six weeks before the effect of reopening has had.
When you look at the statistics, every day for over a month the daily death toll has been over 1,000. Unfortunately, we’ve already lost over 70,000 people from the virus and researchers at the University of Massachusetts are predicting that we’ll lose another 5,000 people per week at least through June 20th. According to model put together by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), they expect daily deaths tolls to steadily increase up to 3,000 per day through June 1st. Per the CDC model, by August 4th, we will see an additional 100,000 deaths throughout the nation. In Georgia, which recently reopened, the model has estimated that there will be an additional 3,000 deaths by early August. In hard hit areas, like New York and New Jersey, the model is saying by August there will be 10,000 more deaths in each state.
Experts point out that this isn’t an inverted curve where once we reach the top it drops back down quickly and steadily. Even, if we’re at the peak now, we could be spending weeks with relatively high numbers of new cases and deaths before the numbers start to decline. This is something that we all should be taking into consideration as states and other areas are reopening and we’re trying to gain some sense of normalcy.