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The “cautious” part of “cautiously optimistic.”

Good Morning.

Pam Marino here, just a few days after I wrote in this space about more vaccines scheduled to come our way (once the freezing storms have passed) and new vaccination eligibility rules. I wrote that I was cautiously optimistic about the pandemic situation.

One thing that makes me cautious is the number of Covid-19 variants that are now spreading and could throw a wrench in the process of beating the virus.

The Monterey County Health Department announced on Feb. 18 that its Public Health Laboratory now has the capacity to do its own genomic surveillance for SARS-CoV-2 variants. Previously, the county was sending samples to the California Department of Public Health and the CDC as part of the National Surveillance Program to look for the kind of variants you’ve heard about in the news—like the B.1.1.7., first detected in the United Kingdom, or B.1.351 detected in South Africa.

The Health Department reported about a month ago that a variant spreading throughout California, L452R, had been detected in Monterey County, based on samples sent to the state. On Thursday, the department announced that testing now shows L452R “may represent up to 70 percent of SARS-CoV-2 circulating locally.”

It’s still not yet known how L452R will impact the efficacy of vaccines, according to “A Guide to Emerging SARS-CoV-2 Variants” posted by The Scientist on Jan. 26. That’s being studied, along with how transmissible it might be.

For now, L452R seems to be less worrisome than some of the other variants out there, but we can’t get complacent. Those others could be more transmissible, could cause more severe disease, evade existing treatments and even evade immunity derived from either being previously infected with Covid-19 or getting a vaccine. 

The virus keeps evolving, albeit at a slower pace than influenza or HIV, according to The Scientist. Mutations are occuring, and even stacking on each other. That makes all those spikes in coronaviruses, part of all the graphics of Covid-19 you see, latch onto our cells more easily and firmly. (For a good explanation of the science behind how this works, check out The Scientist article linked above.)

We may not fully understand these variants yet, but we do now some things for sure. Chiefly, even as vaccines roll out, we know we are not out of this pandemic yet. 

So continue to stay home as much as possible. I know, it’s not what you want to hear, but it’ll keep you (and us) safer until we reach herd immunity. If you do go to stores, limit your time inside. Some variants may infect more quickly than others; get in and get out.

Mask, mask, mask. Bandanas don’t work. Single-layer cotton masks are not good enough. If you’re wearing cloth masks, layer them with hospital masks, if you can afford it. (For more details on masks and the latest recommendations—and tips on how to avoid knock-offs—check out this story.) 

Beyond staying home and masks, you know the rest of the drill. Physically distance yourself from others and always wear a mask when interacting with people from outside your household. Wash your hands for 20 seconds. 

And get a vaccine when you can. Even then, it doesn’t mean you can let your guard down—you’ll still have to wear masks, keep distant, etc. since you could still spread the disease. And meanwhile, I remain cautiously optimistic. 

Stay well and stay safe!

-Pam Marino, staff writer, pam@mcweekly.com

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