What We Know Today About SARS-CoV-2 Variants

Hello all from a rainy and blustery Maine.

I was going to write this week about bubbles and wiffleballs, but with a lot of talk of the new variant I wanted to take a moment this week to share what we know and what we don’t know about these new COVID-19 Variants. Bubble/Wiffleballs will be next week!

We know that viruses constantly changed via mutation and that new variants of the virus are expected to occur over time. Multiple variants of the virus that causes COVID-19 have been documented in the US and globally throughout the pandemic. The current major variants that are circulating globally are:

  • B.1.1.7- UK variant. While it seems that this variance spreads more easily and others, there is no evidence currently that it caused more severe illness or increased risk of death. Additionally initial reports that this variance spread more rapidly among children have been unfounded. It is important to note that while the virus may be more transmissible, perhaps due to an enhanced ability to bind to certain receptors in our nose and throat, NPIs like masking and distancing still appear effective in the physical transmission of respiratory droplets that contain these strains of viruses
  • 1.351- South Africa variant. This variant was detected in early October and shares some of the mutations from the UK variant.
  • P.1 – Brazil Variant. This variant has not been detected in the US, but it has set an additional set of mutations that we are watching closely for their ability to avoid antibody detection.

While this is what we do know, we don’t know how widely these new variants have spread, how the disease caused by them differ from the disease caused by other currently circulating variants and how the variants affect existing therapies and vaccines. In the US, sequenced-based Strain surveillance is ramping up to continue to monitor for these in new strains of SARS-CoV-2.

Interestingly, the FDA put out a warning of possible false negative results that may occur with any molecular test when a genetic variation removes the genetic material for which the test searches. Currently the FDA has only identified three tests which could cause concern for this issue.

The science, knowledge and recommendations continue to constantly grow and respond to our learning. I will keep you updated if and when these new variants change our planning for opening in 2021.