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COVID variants may not be more deadly, but virologist says ‘avoid contracting it at all costs’

A patient enters a COVID-19 testing site on Feb. 13, 2021 in Seattle, Washington. A large winter storm dropped heavy snow across the region. (Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)

New variants of COVID-19 are running rampant, but there’s a bit of good news this week in that case rates are down. Virologist Dr. Angela Rasmussen, a weekly guest of KIRO Radio’s Gee and Ursula Show, says while she’s happy cases are down, she unfortunately does not think the worst is behind us.

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“There are a few different things that could explain this, but the bottom line is, a lot of people really don’t know why the cases are in such a steep decline,” she said. “And it may be in part good news. It may be because enough people have been infected so far nationwide, and enough vaccines have been rolled out that we’re starting to approach the herd immunity threshold. But most people, myself included, don’t think that’s actually the case.”

“It might also be because people are taking extra precautions, which I hope is the case,” she continued. “And it might also be because resources have been shifted from testing to vaccinations, so we’re just not testing as much and detecting as many cases. In which case, those declines may not be as significant as they appear.”

That said, with the United Kingdom as an example of how a new variant can rapidly circulate in the population, any declines we’re seeing now can be rapidly reversed.

“In order to prevent that from happening, we really do need to hold off on celebrating for now that this pandemic is over and that we are going back to normal, and continue to use precautions to prevent transmission,” Dr. Rasmussen said.

In terms of the variant first found in the U.K., Rasmussen says she’s not yet convinced that it’s deadlier, as the data is a bit confusing to interpret.

“This is based on data from various hospitals in the U.K. that showed that people in general who contracted the variant have a higher risk of being hospitalized and dying,” she explained. “But data like that can be somewhat confusing to interpret just because there are so many different factors in every different patient population.”

“That increased risk of death was not present when they only looked at hospitalized patients, so that makes it a little bit confusing to interpret,” she added.

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The variant, however, is still potentially deadly, is SARS-CoV-2, and is definitely more transmissible, Rasmussen said.

“You should avoid contracting it at all costs.”

To hear Dr. Rasmussen’s thoughts on reopening schools in Washington, and her explanation of the Ebola outbreak in Africa, listen to the full interview here.

Listen to the Gee and Ursula Show weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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