As the coronavirus mutates and new variants emerge, the next few weeks will be crucial for Connecticut and the country as a whole, officials from Trinity Health of New England said Friday morning.
Eight cases of the more easily transmissible COVID-19 variant B.1.1.7, known as the UK variant, have been found in Connecticut.
"If this variant, we give more time for this variant to spread, and if becomes the dominant strain in this country, we will see a surge that we haven't seen so far. It will be catastrophic." Dr. Syed Hussain, the chief clinical officer for Trinity Health, said.
"Just like how the United Kingdom detected this strain in late fall and by early winter they had cases that were much, much higher than their first surge in the spring, and now the country is in tight lockdown," he said.
The statements came during a briefing from Hussain and Dr. Jessica Abrantes-Figueiredo, the chief of infectious diseases for St. Francis Hospital to discuss the latest information surrounding COVID-19 and the vaccines to combat it. They urged the importance of people continuing to wear face masks, maintaining a social distance from people outside their household and practicing good hygiene.
The COVID-19 vaccines approved in the United States are pretty effective against the UK variant, Hussain said, but they "are very concerned with the Brazilian and South African variants where vaccine efficacy might not hold as high as with the other strains."
In addition to wearing masks, Hussain urged people to wear masks correctly to ensure that they cover the nose as well as the mouth.
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“We want to maintain that downward trend and keep the numbers low,” he said as the region sees lower percentages of positive coronavirus tests and a lower number of hospitalizations and deaths from the virus.
It is common for viruses to mutate, Abrantes-Figueiredo, and as much as there is concern, this is what was expected.
"If we don't allow the virus to replicate or to pass on to other folks, then we're stopping transmission," Abrantes-Figueiredo said.
As the virus mutates, the vaccines are still effective. She said there are some concerns that the efficacy will drop with some strains, but pointed out that the flu shot can be less than 50 percent effective, but it is still beneficial.
Hussain is urging people to get the vaccine when they are eligible, but warned that COVID-19 precautions are still important.