COVID-19 and Its Variants

Infographic by the Journal of the American Medical Association

When a mysterious and contagious disease hit Wuhan, China on December 2019, the virus was referred to as coronavirus.

Coronavirus is the term for a large family of viruses that cause illnesses and are transmitted between animals and people.

The coronavirus from Wuhan quickly spread throughout the globe and on February 11, 2020, the World Health Organization officially named the devastating disease as COVID-19 and SARS-CoV-2.

COVID-19 is the shortened term for COrona VIrus Disease 2019.

It’s been more than a year since March 2020, when the world went into a global lockdown as a way to slow down the spread of the new virus.

By early 2021, vaccines against COVID-19 became available for free to the public and countries around the world started to roll out vaccination programs.

As the world’s population protects itself against COVID-19, the virus has been mutating creating variants of the original COVID-19.

“When a virus develops a new mutation, it is called a variant of the original virus. As viruses spread, they constantly change through mutations to their genetic code,” said Richard Yanagihara, M.D., M.P.H. of University of Hawaii’s John A. Burns School of Medicine.

Variants of the original COVID-19 are expected, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

What’s The Difference?
“Most mutations in the SARS-CoV-2 genome do not affect the functioning of the virus,” Dr. Yanagihara said.

“However, mutations in the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2, which binds to receptors on cells lining the inside of the human nose, may make the virus easier to spread or affect how well vaccines protect people. Other mutations may lead to SARS-CoV-2 being less responsive to treatments for COVID-19.”

COVID-19 symptoms are still the same but the variants differ in the speed that they spread, the severity of the disease and their effectiveness in the current antibody treatments.

According to CDC, there are currently four variants that are of concern in the United States:

Alpha (B.1.1.7) – This variant spread 50% more quickly than the original virus and can cause more severe COVID-19 disease. Current antibody treatments are effective against the Alpha variant.

Beta (B.1.351) and Gamma (P.1) – These two variants spread less quickly than the Alpha variant but still faster than the original COVID-19. However, current antibody treatments are less effective with these variants.

Delta (B.1.617.2) – This variant spreads much faster than the other variants and the original virus. It may cause more severe cases compared to the other variants while certain antibody treatments are less effective.

What Should We Do?
As the world starts to slowly reopen, we should still protect ourselves against COVID-19 and its variants.

The CDC highly recommends getting vaccinated as vaccines are “effective at keeping people from getting COVID-19, getting very sick, and dying.”

The agency also adds that vaccinated people are less likely to spread COVID-19.

Although masks aren’t mandatory anymore in most states, wearing a mask is still highly encouraged by the CDC to protect yourself, others and the community.

The COVID-19 virus spreads through droplets when coughing, sneezing and even just talking, and when inhaled, it will infect the person.

It is important to wear masks to ensure that you are not inhaling other people’s droplets and to also keep your own droplets inside your mask.

Moreover, governments are asked to implement ways to reduce community spread.

“To control COVID-19, the Governor needs to do more than request the public’s cooperation. The Governor should implement a health pass that will require persons to show proof of full vaccination to enter establishments, such as restaurants, gyms, and stores,” said Speaker Scott Saiki of the Hawaii House of Representatives.

“I am confident that Hawaii residents will support such a move because they want to protect their children, families and friends.”

The Hawaii Department of Health is also offering free COVID-19 testing at Aloha Stadium every Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays in the month of August. The initiative is in partnership with the Honolulu Fire Department and the Hawaii National Guard.

The DOH encourages those who are symptomatic and been exposed to a positive should get tested, regardless of vaccination status. The agency also noted that those who are currently in active quarantine order should not go out to get tested.

Health Director Dr. Elizabeth Char said Hawaii’s recent increase in COVID-19 cases led the demand for more testing.

“These testing events add to our state’s capacity and ensure that individuals have access to free testing,” she said.

Free COVID-19 testing at Aloha Stadium will be from 10 am to 4 pm on Saturdays and Sundays, while Tuesdays and Thursdays are from 10 am to 2 pm. No appointments will be required. Free parking is also available.

“We are happy to partner in this effort to test even more people in our community. Aloha Stadium is accessible from anywhere on the island, making it an ideal site to conduct additional testing,” said Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi.

“Mahalo to our heroes at HFD, who have consistently been on the frontlines against COVID-19. Their efforts at Aloha Stadium will protect our communities and save lives.”

To learn more about Hawaii’s efforts against COVID-19, visit hawaiicovid19.com.

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