The advantage the new variants carry seems to be that in any given situation where people are gathered, they’ll infect more people — an estimated 30 to 70 percent more in the case of the B.1.1.7 variant first identified in Britain, which has now been identified in 50 countries.
B.1.1.7 is already believed to be circulating at low levels across the US. And for a preview of what might come, look at how cases surged in the UK and nearby countries where this variant gained a foothold:
Even after a lockdown in the UK in November, the virus ripped through the population, overwhelming hospitals and forcing the government to implement even stricter stay-at-home orders by January.
While these variants haven’t been shown to be more deadly, a more transmissible virus is actually worse in many ways than a more lethal one. Cases snowball at a faster rate, Harvard epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch said on a recent press call. With a 50 percent rise in infectiousness, for example, “in less than two weeks, you get twice the number of cases,” Lipsitch said. “And in a month or so, you have four, five times as many cases. But that’s very approximate.” The case growth could be even more dramatic, as Vox’s Brian Resnick reported.
The implication is clear: If we want the pandemic to end as fast as possible, we need to pump the brakes right now. And we don’t have to wait for the vaccines to slow the spread of the virus. We simply need to do what we’ve been doing all along to prevent infections, just much, much better. At an individual level, that means avoiding optional gatherings with other people — even grocery trips — whenever possible, or cutting them very short.
“Shopping for five minutes in the grocery store is a lot better — six times better — than shopping for 30 minutes,” said Tom Frieden, the former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, since the odds of becoming infected rise the longer you’re exposed. “Picking up groceries at the curbside is even better, and having them delivered is even better still.”(If you’re able to get groceries delivered or pick up curbside, it will also help reduce the risk for those who can’t.)
It’s time to avoid other people, even at the grocery store (if possible)
We know the virus can’t spread if we keep our distance from other people. But with the new variants, it might be even easier to catch.
The B.1.1.7 variant, for example, may generate a higher viral load in the respiratory tract of people who are infected, causing them to spew particles laden with even more virus into the air. Or the variant’sspike protein — the thorny edges on the surface that fit into the receptor in our cells — may be even “stickier,” meaning it’s even more effective at entering human cells.
We still don’t know the exact reason the virus variants appear to be more contagious, University of Utah evolutionary virologist Stephen Goldstein told Vox, but we don’t have to wait for the answer. “The best protection still remains avoiding contact with other people indoors, especially for a sustained period of time,” he said. In other words, if you must meet others, a few minutes is much better than an hour or a few hours.
The activities we already knew were risky, like going to bars, eating in restaurants, or hanging out with friends at home, are probably even more so now. And even less risky indoor activities — going to a busy grocery store or pharmacy — could carry additional danger in contexts where the virus is spreading.
The 3 #SARSCoV2 variants/strains update Where they have appeared and when 1. B.1.1.7 "UK" 2. 501Y.V2 (aka B.1.351) "South Africa" 3. P.1 "Brazil" (also seen in travelers Brazil to Japan) No other new lineages/variants/strains of concern at this timehttps://t.co/1JrZ1o22PSpic.twitter.com/rMzzzJwq5r
“Maybe if I’m in New Zealand [where new virus cases have mostly hovered below 20 per day for months], I can go get a haircut,” said Julie Swann, a professor at North Carolina State University who has studied Covid-19 mask effectiveness. “But I would not go in person to get a haircut if there’s a virus that’s 50 percent more transmissible spreading where I live.”
The emphasis here is on indoor activities. That’s because indoors is where most coronavirus transmission still takes place, even in the UK. In a recent report from Public Health England this week outlining where new cases of acute respiratory infections, including with the coronavirus, occurred, most popped up settings like workplaces, schools, long-term care homes, and hospitals.
There is a lot of chat about outdoor cycling and jogging.
But we need to focus on how to prevent transmission *indoors* - in care homes, workplaces, etc. That's where transmission takes place.
Concerns about going for a walk or run even in this scary new context are misplaced, experts say. “There seems to be a bit of a fuss about needing to be more wary of transmission outdoors, but I don’t know where that has come from,” saidRichard Lessells, a University of KwaZulu-Natal infectious disease specialist in Durban, South Africa. “Based on the evidence, we still think risk of transmission outdoors is very substantially less than indoors, and there’s no reason to believe the new variants change that equation substantially.”
But what is the likelihood of catching the virus outdoors? Contact tracing studies suggest that transmission risk is 20 times higher in indoor settings compared with outdoor environments. The risk is not zero but significantly lower. (4/n) (https://t.co/h6KQ0pAxMc\) pic.twitter.com/kDQBAJWYP4
When you do have to be around other people, use a mask — but not just any mask. The other lesson of the new variants, Frieden told Vox, is that we need to get better at masking.
“The fact that [the variants] are so infectious suggests to me having a better mask is a good idea,” Frieden said. When it comes to avoiding an infection, “a surgical mask is better than a cloth mask, a tight-fitting surgical mask is better than a loose-fitting mask, and an N95 is better than a surgical mask.”
Most Americans, however, still rely on cloth masks. Part of the problem is that the CDC continues to recommend cloth masks — what should have been a stopgap measure while the government procured better, medical-grade masks for citizens, Zeynep Tufekci and Jeremy Howard pointed out in the Atlantic.
This is a failure at a time when other countries around the world have managed to follow the evidence and get high-quality face coverings to people. It’s also an opportunity for the Biden administration to show leadership and learn from other countries.
In Austria, for example, the government is distributing FFP2 masks — the European equivalent of N95s — to citizens over the age of 65. In Taiwan, every citizen has access to new high-quality masks every week following the government’s manufacturing scale-up, Tufekci and Howard report. In Bavaria, Germany, the government has also boosted its mask supply and is mandating FFP2 masks on public transit and in stores.
If you can’t afford or access a higher-quality mask, Swann said, tight, well-fitting (cover that nose and mouth!) homemade masks with multiple layers are better than single-layer cloth masks. Similarly, double masking is better than single masking. And, of course, any mask is still better than no mask.
“But the best protection still remains avoiding contact with other people indoors, especially for a sustained period of time,” Goldstein added. “Masks are not 100 percent effective. Staying away from people is 100 percent effective.”
People of color tend to be overrepresented in these groups — but there’s no biological reason they’re more likely to get sick and die from the virus. Simply put: They tend to work jobs that take them outside the home and into close contact with other people, live in crowded environments ideal for coronavirus contagion, or both.
But business owners don’t need to wait on the government to intervene, Swann said.They should step up anti-virus measures now. For example, managers can ask employees who have just returned from holidays or other high-risk gatherings to self-quarantine for five days and then take a PCR test before coming to the office. “This gives time for an infection to have enough viral load to show up in test,” she said. Managers could also make sure workers avoid eating and socializing without masks, pay for testing, and consider supplying better masks for their employees.
[Updated] Total vaccine doses administered:
World 29.8M US 10.3M China 10M UK 3.1M Israel 2M UAE 1.4M Italy 801K Germany 758K Spain 582K Canada 388K Poland 310K France 247K Saudi Arabia 178K Singapore 6K
Most countries aren’t moving as quickly as Israel, and governments need to catch up in the race against the virus. Because if we continue doing everything the same way we’vebeen doing at earlier stages of the pandemic, we’re going to help the virus get even better, and “the trajectory can get worse with a more transmissible variant,” Goldstein said. At a time when nearly 5,000 Americans are dying of the virus each day, anything worse is hard to fathom. But the point is: the situation doesn’t have to deteriorate. Even before governments announce new Covid-19 plans and programs and vaccines are injected into every possible arm, we can change the trajectory of the pandemic.
The fast-food chain will also be adding a Beyond Meat option
When Taco Bell announced it was removing potatoes as part of its menu “streamlining” efforts this summer, vegetarians and nightshade fans alike cried out in agony. The potato was the chain’s “secret weapon,” and was a hearty filling for anyone who wanted to avoid meat but wanted something more than just beans and cheese. But apparently enough people yelled at Taco Bell that they are now bringing the potatoes back on March 11. Sometimes bullying works!
The Cheesy Fiesta Potatoes and the Spicy Potato Soft Taco will live más, and as before customers can substitute potatoes for the filling in any other offering. Taco Bell’s global chief food innovation officer Liz Matthews explained that because of the coronavirus pandemic, and the lack of indoor dining, the company was focused on paring down the menu so it could get customers through the drive-thru quickly. And while Matthews says the company expected some complaints about god’s own tuber, it received more than she expected. “I feel like I’ve almost heard from everybody in the country on the potato bites,” she said.
The announcement also came with this terrifying Twitter video, in which Taco Bell CEO Mark King mouth and eyes are digitally imposed on a potato. Is this some last punishment Taco Bell had to get in before giving the people what they wanted?
Taco Bell will also be rolling out a collaboration with Beyond Meat. Fast food chains have increasingly been turning to imitation meats for “vegetarian” options (even though many are made on the same griddles as meat), but the products are positioned more toward meat eaters who are searching for meat-tasting substitutes than toward vegetarians who were never seeking the taste of meat in the first place, or are actively put off by the imitation texture. “We have long been a leader in the vegetarian space, but this year, we have more meatless options in store that vegetarians, veggie-curious and even meat-eaters will love,” said Matthews in a press release.
Still, in a world that often treats vegetarian and vegan concerns as an afterthought, the return of the potatoes feels like a win. Matthews admits that the brand listens to backlash —regarding the potential return of the Mexican Pizza from Taco Bell’s menu, she said “We’re constantly listening to our customers. So, I wouldn’t pull that off the table.” Just a reminder that if you just keep pressuring those in power, they will have to do what you say eventually. Thanks for the politics lesson, Taco Bell!
Super Mario 3D World, an enhanced version of the original game that bundles in a new expansion called Bowser’s Fury, will launch on February 12th for the Switch. Nintendo announced the news today along with a new Mario Red & Blue Edition console.
The upgraded version of Super Mario 3D World features both online and local co-op for up to four players. The special edition Switch, modeled after Mario’s plumber outfit, will be available at select retailers for $299.99. In addition to a carrying case and red Joy-Con controllers with blue trim, the Switch itself is red — a first for the typically all-black console. Nintendo is also selling new amiibo figures of Cat Mario and Cat Peach.
Nintendo revealed the game’s arrival on the Switch last fall alongside news of other classic game returns for Mario’s 35th anniversary. As part of that anniversary, Nintendo is also holding special challenges available to players with a Nintendo Switch Online membership. The first challenge asks players to collectively defeat 3.5 million Bowsers in-game.