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Image: Pixabay

Data suggesting it causes worse symptoms is preliminary. But concern is justified.

According to preliminary data, the mutated, more contagious variant of the coronavirus that originated in the U.K. might also be more virulent, meaning it would cause worse symptoms and potentially lead to more deaths on a per-case basis than the original strain of the virus.

But the limited data, based on only a few weeks of studying the new variant, is not yet as convincing as some headlines have suggested, several experts say.

Multiple emerging mutated coronavirus variants have generated well-founded scientific concern due to their increased contagiousness, which causes higher rates of infections, thus leading to more deaths — even if the variant isn’t inherently more deadly for each infected person. But now, multiple small studies indicate that people infected with the U.K. variant, named B.1.1.7, …


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One year in, we can’t count solely on the government to solve this

One year ago today, the first known coronavirus infection was reported in the US. I wrote my first story for Elemental about the emerging pandemic on that day, and there was so much we didn’t yet know, I’d be embarrassed to link to it. So, onward…

Sometimes it seems only big, bold changes will reign in the pandemic. Sure, vaccines will be a game-changer. But not for a few months. Meanwhile, we’re at a potential turning point, as new cases have started to decline.

Slowing the spread of Covid-19 is not all about vaccines or big federal efforts, though both are vital. Each time one person dons a mask, stays home, shortens time at a store, gives a little more space between self and others, the odds of infection go down. Each coronavirus infection that one person helps prevent means 1+ other transmissions won’t happen. …


The nation crosses two grim thresholds as deaths exceed 400,000

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With the U.S. Covid-19 death toll now exceeding 400,000, the pandemic has taken more lives on a per-capita basis than World War I or any year’s worth of infectious-disease outbreaks in a century.

Such comparisons mean nothing to those who’ve lost a loved one to the novel coronavirus. I note them to illustrate the scope of the pandemic, to put it in some context to help illuminate the severity of the ongoing, largely preventable catastrophe.

The daily Covid-19 death rate — now at 3,225 based on the one-week running average — is nearly as high as the combined toll of the two leading annual causes of death, heart disease (1,774 deaths per day) and cancer (1,641). …


Covid-19 is merely a wake-up call to scenarios that keep infectious-disease experts up at night

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Image: Andriy Onufriyenko/Getty Images

As bad as Covid-19 seems, the world has grown increasingly vulnerable to an even deadlier global outbreak that experts expect is inevitable. It’s unclear when and where a more aggressive pathogen will emerge, but scientists say it will almost surely threaten an even worse pandemic than Covid-19.

“This pandemic has been very severe, has spread around the world extremely quickly, it has affected every corner of this planet. But this is not necessarily the big one,” says Mike Ryan, MD, an expert on emerging epidemics and executive director of the Emergencies Program at the World Health Organization (WHO). “This virus is very transmissible,” Ryan says. “But its current case fatality rate is reasonably low in comparison to other emerging diseases. …


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Credit: buildbackbetter.gov

Big progress is possible if the nation cooperates

Hopes are high that Joe Biden as president will confront the pandemic with science-driven actions and words to slow the spread of both the coronavirus and misinformation, reverse the heartbreaking trend of rising deaths and eventually squash the bug. He inherits a tall task. The virus is spreading uncontrolled across America, just as a more infectious coronavirus strain is expected to take over soon, and the country is already a largely determined course to surpass 500,000 deaths in a few weeks.

“Could Covid kill a million Americans? Quite possibly, especially if a more transmissible strain spreads widely, says Tom Frieden, former director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. …


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Image: NASA

Keep your pajamas on and help save the planet by citing this new study

Jammies have been my primary work attire the past year, and I’ve got Boris Johnson hair most days until an oft-delayed evening shower. For those reasons, plus my undiagnosed but totally legit allergy to video conferencing, I almost never turn on my video camera during Zoom sessions.

But now there’s a much more noble excuse to go audio-only: Videoconferencing is far worse for the environment than a conventional phone call.

Delivering each byte of data over the internet requires a bit more electricity, whose production draws on water and land resources and emits carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming (2020 tied for the warmest year on record, btw). That’s not news, but in a new study, scientists at MIT and Purdue and Yale universities estimated the carbon footprint and other environmental impacts of internet data transmission via Zoom, YouTube, TikTok, Facebook, and several other platforms and apps including gaming and movie streaming. …


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Life expectancy prior to the pandemic had already been declining in the United States. Official figures exist only through 2018.

The decline is largest for people of color

Life expectancy in the United States is now 1.13 years shorter due to Covid-19 deaths last year, a drop 10 times larger than any other dip in recent years. For Black people, who’ve been hit disproportionately hard by the disease, 2.1 years have been shaved off expected life-spans. Latinos have lost 3.05 years.

The estimated figures, based on the 336,000 Covid deaths in 2020, represent the biggest decline in life expectancy in at least four decades and are the lowest expectations set since 2003. Expect further declines in coming years, researchers say.

After decades of increasing life expectancy in America, the new findings, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, mark a steep drop on the heels of multiple declines since 2015, attributed to systemic inequities in health care and “deaths of despair” such as opioid overdoses, excess alcohol consumption, and suicide. The United States already ranked behind Cuba, Slovenia, and 47 other nations on this measure of longevity. …


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Image: Pixabay

Scientific hopes and fears loom as the pandemic rages on

“Could Covid kill a million Americans? Quite possibly, especially if a more transmissible strain spreads widely. Our actions in the weeks ahead matter a lot.”
—Tom Frieden, MD, former CDC director

With a new administration aiming to bring more federal organization and dollars to the pandemic response, along with an experienced team of experts who will seek to make decisions based on solid science, we can expect an opportunity to begin seeing some light at the end of what’s become a dark Covid tunnel. But don’t expect the pandemic to end in days or weeks. Given the current pace of new cases, it’s going to take months to beat this thing down. But there’s hope, and lots of it. …


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Only a dramatic uptick in prevention can change the math

With the official U.S. Covid-19 death toll nearing 400,000, and the current rate of new cases and deaths surging, expect half a million dead before the end of February. Only a significant turnabout in efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus and its new strains could change that calculus.

Based on input from 35 different modeling groups, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control projects the toll will be somewhere between 440,000 and 477,000 by February 6. That assumes deaths pace between 16,200 and 29,600 per week by then. …


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Variant that apparently evolved in the U.S. would add to growing global list of emerging strains

A mutated strain of the coronavirus thought to have originated in the United States has been discovered in Ohio, according to preliminary results of an ongoing analysis of changes in the virus. Over a recent three-week period, the newly evolved variant appears to have become the dominant version of the virus spreading in Columbus, the state’s capital, suggesting that like other variants emerging around the world, it is more contagious than the original.

Details of the findings of this and also a second new variant, announced January 13 in a press release, have not yet been published in a scientific journal and so should be considered preliminary. But other infectious disease experts have previously said they expect more emerging new strains, also called variants, of SARS-CoV-2, which causes Covid-19. …

About

Robert Roy Britt

Explainer of things, independent health and science journalist, author, former editor-in-chief of LiveScience and Space dot com.

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