As of Friday, several mutated strains of the virus have been confirmed around the U.S., including those initially detected in South Africa, Brazil and the U.K, and also a local strain in California tied to large county outbreaks and over one-third of cases in Los Angeles, researchers say.
These strains have caused widespread concern because they include mutations along the virus’s surface spike protein, which it uses to infect cells. Experts have voiced concerns that the mutated strains will diminish vaccines’ effectiveness as the rollout of the long-awaited jabs continues worldwide.
Early findings suggest vaccines will remain effective against the strains, though the South African strain, in particular, has reduced efficacy. For instance, new findings from Novavax reveal its vaccine is 89% against COVID-19 illness, but plummeted to 60% among trial volunteers in South Africa. Including volunteers with HIV, overall the protection against the South African variant was 49%, the company said.
Nevertheless, guidance from health officials has remained the same.
“We know that even as we work hard to defeat COVID-19, the virus continues to evolve as all viruses do,” Jan Malcolm, Minnesota Commissioner of Health, said in a news release when the state confirmed the first U.S. cases of the Brazil variant this week. “That’s yet another reason why we want to limit COVID-19 transmission – the fewer people who get COVID-19, the fewer opportunities the virus has to evolve.”
“The good news is that we can slow the spread of this variant and all COVID-19 variants by using the tried-and-true prevention methods of wearing masks, keeping social distance, staying home when sick, and getting tested when appropriate.”
The new director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Dr. Rochelle Walensky, on Friday reiterated that the country’s first two cases of the South African variant announced Thursday in South Carolina, were among two people who didn’t have recent travel history and didn’t know each other, suggesting the strain has been circulating in the community.
While there is still much unknown about mutated strains, and scientists are working to address answers like impacts on transmission, virulence and vaccine efficacy, experts say a snug fit is among the most important factors when considering a coronavirus face mask.
As more variant cases are identified, experts are studying if wearing two masks instead of one could offer even more protection. The CDC is currently studying the effectiveness of double masks – specifically a cloth mask placed over a medical mask – in stopping coronavirus spread but does not yet have “hard data” to support whether it’d be better than using a single mask, it said.
Walensky told NBC’s “Today” on Friday that 59% of Americans are wearing masks right now. According to the CDC, masks should have two layers of breathable fabric, with a snug fit covering the nose and mouth.
Fox News’ Alexandria Hein and Madeline Farber contributed to this report.