Americans should not dismiss the mutation of the COVID-19 virus, says Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's leading infectious-disease expert. Fauci appeared on MSNBC's All In With Chris Hayes Monday night, and in response to the host's question about how seriously we should take the news of the virus's mutation, he said, "We take it quite seriously. This one appears to make the virus much more easily transmissible," Fauci said. "Once it becomes more easily transmissible, you're going to get more cases. And when you get more cases, you're going to get more hospitalizations and more deaths. It's bad enough with what we're going through now. We don't need to get it worse." Read on to discover how you can stay safe from the mutation—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had Coronavirus.
The new mutation is in four U.S. states
COVID-19 is an RNA virus. Most mutations of RNA viruses are meaningless, in that they don't affect the virus's function, explained Fauci. However, a more infectious virus is the last thing Americans need. In many areas of the U.S., hospitals are already buckling under an influx of COVID-19 patients, reporting ICUs that are at or above capacity and a shortage of healthcare workers.
The mutated COVID virus was first identified in the United Kingdom in September. In the past few weeks, cases have been discovered in Colorado, California, Florida and New York. The New York case, reported Tuesday, is a retail worker in his 30s who had not traveled recently, meaning his illness is likely the result of community spread. Although the mutated virus seems to be easier to catch, it doesn't seem to be more fatal or cause more severe illness, nor does it seem to override the new COVID-19 vaccines.
So why the concern? A more contagious virus is more difficult to contain, meaning that more people need to get vaccinated to end the pandemic. And the Trump administration's vaccine rollout is already proceeding more slowly than expected. As of Monday night, 4.5 million people had received the first of a two-dose shot. The government had pledged that 20 million people would be vaccinated by Dec. 31, 2020.
"We've got to get the pace up," said Fauci, who will remain with the Biden administration as chief medical adviser. "We're not where we want to be. There's no doubt about it. No excuses."
Fauci said that 75% to 80% of Americans would have to be vaccinated before the country could achieve herd immunity, a.k.a. a return to normal life. According to the CDC, so far the government has distributed 15.4 million doses of vaccine, enough for less than 5% of the American public to receive one of the required two doses.
How to survive this pandemic
As for yourself, do everything you can to prevent getting—and spreading—COVID-19 in the first place: Wear a face mask, get tested if you think you have coronavirus, avoid crowds (and bars, and house parties), practice social distancing, only run essential errands, wash your hands regularly, disinfect frequently touched surfaces, and to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.