COVID-19 mutation: more contagious

The COVID-19 virus appears to be mutating and has become more contagious. The more contagious the virus, the greater need for face masks.

Since early June, Inweekly has heard that COVID-19 virus has mutated  since it was first found in patients in Escambia County in March – and that the new strain was less severe, less deadly.

No health official or hospital executive made any public statement about the mutation until this past Sunday.

At Gov. Ron DeSantis’ staged press event, the pediatrician-in-chief at the Studer Family Children’s Hospital at Ascension Sacred Heart, Dr. Jason Foland, said, “We’re seeing maybe a less virulent or less strong virus spread throughout the community and a population that doesn’t have a lot of symptoms, such as the 18- to 30-year-olds.”

When asked to clarify his statement by Inweekly, Dr. Foland said the mutation was a theory that still needed to verified by studies. However, he added the new strain spreads faster.

“If you get sick very quickly with an aggressive strain, you’re not out in the community. You’re in your room; you’re not spreading it,” said Foland. “If you have symptoms much like the common cold, you’re spreading it all over the place. And so that’s what other viruses, that’s how they behave.”

Yesterday, the Washington Post posted an article on the mutating of the coronavirus – “This coronavirus mutation has taken over the world. Scientists are trying to understand why.”- that supports Foland’s comments.

The mutation doesn’t appear to make people sicker, but a growing number of scientists worry that it has made the virus more contagious. At least four laboratory experiments suggest that the mutation makes the virus more infectious, although none of that work has been peer-reviewed.

Why is this important? The more contagious the virus, the more vigilant the community needs to be in practicing the CDC guidelines.

The Escambia County administration repeatedly tells its citizens, “Social distancing is still the preferred method of protecting each other.”  However, county administrator has made no moves to shut down anything where social distancing isn’t possible.

And Inweekly isn’t saying Ms. Gilley should.

However, face masks are the next best alternative. Health experts say cloth face coverings are most likely to reduce the spread of COVID-19 when they are widely used by people in public settings.

Last week, Escambia County had more new cases among its residents, 447, than it did in May, 229, and March-April, 428. Over seven days, the county’s cases increased by 38%.

If the half of the new cases are people under the age of 35, as Gov. DeSantis said on Sunday, why does it matter?

Dr. Foland explained it best: “Even if you get the virus and do not show symptoms, you can still pass them along to your parents or grandparents or any other loved ones who are in more vulnerable groups or have preexisting conditions. Wearing a mask protects somebody’s grandma and grandpa.”

Face masks will stem the tide of new cases and speed our economic recovery.

Last night, the Milton Town Council overturned the mayor’s emergency order mandating face masks inside local businesses. Read PNJ.

Santa Rosa County had 17 new cases on Sunday with a 15.7% positivity rate.  Santa Rosa last week only tested 7.04 per 1,000 people.  Escambia tested 14.0 per 1,000. The lack of testing in Santa Rosa is hiding the true number of infections in the county.

Escambia County says it plans to hand out face masks at yet to be determined places and times. The announcement was made in its daily COVID-19 update but wasn’t mentioned in the SitRep – situation report from Emergency Operations Center that is supposed to have the most current info on the pandemic.

Mobile test sites were overwhelmed yesterday.  Daily specimen collections have tripled at the UWF site.