They are six times more contagious but appear to be less harmful. That said, the long-term impacts are still a big risk, even if we’re still not sure what they are.
Catherine covers health for StateImpact Oklahoma. She grew up in Muskogee and went to Oklahoma State University. She has covered politics and politics in the Colorado high plains, Oklahoma City and Washington, DC You can reach her at email@example.com, @cathjsweeney on Twitter or 405-673-5226 on Signal.
Even more subvariants of COVID have arrived in Oklahoma and, as always, are acting a little differently than previous strains.
The health department confirmed in an email on Wednesday that two new variants account for about 40% of the samples that state labs have tested.
It’s hard to say how widespread COVID is right now. Home kits make up the bulk of the tests. And in Oklahoma, there is no way to report these cases to the state. Still, the state-documented cases are on the rise. In the first week of June, the state health department reported about 3,000 cases. Three weeks later, that number doubled to over 6,000.
Catherine Sweeney of StateImpact spoke with Dr. David Holden, president of the Oklahoma State Medical Association, about what Oklahoma people should know.
RETENTION: These things are six times more infectious than the original variant. And that’s typical… They cite “learning”, so to speak, what it takes to survive. What is needed to survive is to be able to spread faster and not kill the population. For example, one reason you know terrible diseases like Ebola don’t spread very well is because they’re so deadly. They kill people very fast. They cannot travel. And that’s why a virus that becomes less deadly but more infectious spreads and stays in the population.
SWEENEY: I just wanted to talk about reinfection. Someone who just got sick for them to get sick again quickly. It seems these things didn’t happen so much at first. But does it seem like they’re happening more now?
RETENTION: Well, I think certainly, yes, that the previous infection is not necessarily protecting you against these two new variants, because they are so different genetically that your own immune system’s response to the previous infection is not preventing the new variants.
SWEENEY: I know only anecdotally, I’ve heard, and acquaintances say, “They’re getting sick anyway. So why should I get vaccinated? I don’t think it’s a problem that I’ve never been vaccinated.” It sounds like you are saying that this is not the case.
RETENTION: I think clearly the saying goes, “Well I don’t need it, you know, people are getting it anyway”. That might be true, but there’s a big difference between getting it, getting into the hospital, or, again, secondary damage you don’t know about. It’s one thing to get away from a virus. Another thing is to be disabled.
When I started training in the 1970s, we saw an increase in Parkinson’s disease at the University of Texas at Houston, and no one could figure out where it came from. Our neurology department was quite strong and was surprised by the sudden increase in cases for no apparent reason. And them linked it to the 1918 pandemic because the population that we were seeing in the 70’s was the exact population that you could have seen that would have come from the 1918 pandemic. And as we’ve seen here, with COVID, it has crossed the blood brain barrier and it has crossed the neurological system and, of course, loss of taste and smell.
SWEENEY: You might think, “It’s a respiratory virus. You breathe through your nose and mouth. This should just be damage to your nose and mouth.” But that’s not the case, right?
RETENTION: Right. And the thing that people understand is that when people talk about, well, I’ve healed or gotten over something, the reality is that the nervous system doesn’t heal well. That’s why people have been having a hard time, maybe a year now, without taste and smell. It doesn’t always recover and it’s hard to know. Well, when did you cross the line?
By the way, I will mention that many of the cases are occurring today regarding COVID for travel. And I would still ask people to wear a mask in nearby places, airplanes, airport toilets, things like that, where you only think about that if you’re in a toilet, at an airport, think about how many thousands of people go through that toilet.
SWEENEY: I saw a handy little tip: When you’re thinking about protecting yourself against something that’s in the air, think if someone smoked a cigarette in this place, would I be able to smell it? So if someone smoked a cigarette on the plane, even if you are standing in front of the plane, you will end up smelling it. So that’s where you should wear a mask. Or if someone smokes in the bathroom, even within 10 minutes you can smell it.
RETENTION: Well, sure, I remember the days when we were flying before there were any restrictions on smoking on the plane. And they had a smoking section. It was useless because they would sit at the front of the plane to smoke and you could smell it all over the plane no matter what. So, yes, you know, an airborne virus with these kind of nanoparticles is going to get through the plane no matter what.