MCH urges caution with covid variants

Michael Bauer, Odessa American, Texas
·5 min read

Apr. 8—As different variants of the coronavirus continue to spread around the globe and make their way to the United States, the message is continue to be careful and don't panic.

During a news conference outside of the entrance to MCH Thursday afternoon, critical care physician Dr. Alejandra Garcia Fernandez talked about the different variants, particularly the Brazilian strain, which is also known as P.1.

Recent social media reports have detailed that a local man has the Brazilian strain but hospital officials detail that it is not confirmed.

"I think the most important thing is that people take basic measurements that we've been pushing since the start of the pandemic," Fernandez said. "You still want to wear your mask when you're indoors. You still want to protect your population. You still want to wash your hands as frequently as possible. And whenever you have the opportunity to get your vaccine, please do. That's what you can do for these variants to keep from mutating and spreading across the globe."

The Centers for Disease Control website, as of Thursday afternoon, detailed that there were 356 reported cases of P.1 in the United States and 25 jurisdictions reporting.

As of Thursday afternoon, Fernandez said there were no confirmed cases of the Brazilian strain or any other variants of the coronavirus at MCH and that they are testing for all different variants and awaiting results.

MCH officials are still awaiting PCR results on one patient who possibly came into contact with someone who had the Brazilian strain.

On Thursday, MCHS showed 12 COVID patients in-house and six critical care patients.

Because viruses constantly change through mutation, new variants of a virus are expected to occur.

Because of that, Fernandez said to expect more cases of the variants in the United States.

"We do not have a confirmed case of the Brazilian strain at Medical Center Hospital. But the reality is, we all know that these strains are going to be spreading out because of the rapid spread of these mutations so we expect to see new cases of the newer strain. We already have confirmed cases of the new strain in the United States so it's not a surprise that we're starting to see new cases in different states."

Other variants include the U.K. variant (also known as B.1.1.7) which is dominant in much of Great Britain and has spread to over 50 countries and the South Africa variant (B.1.351) which has been found in at least 20 other countries.

According to the CDC, the United States had 16,275 reported cases of the U.K. variant on Thursday and 386 reported cases of the South Africa Variant.

These variants have been known to spread more easily and quickly than other variants, which may lead to more cases of COVID-19.

One thing that Fernandez stressed about the Brazilian strain (and other variants for that matter) is that the transmissibility of it is higher than others but is not necessarily as lethal.

"These strains spread rapidly but we do not have evidence that it causes higher mortality than other strains," Fernandez said. "We're seeing more people, for example in Canada, where there's a big outbreak of the Brazilian strain and a lot of the speculation is we're seeing it in a lot of younger people so it has to be stronger. So, I'll take this opportunity to say that in Canada, they're vaccinating their higher-risk population.

"So, who's left without vaccinations? The younger people. That's why we're seeing more younger people getting affected by these newer strains because they're the population that hasn't been vaccinated yet."

Another item Fernandez wanted to make clear is that vaccines still offer protection and that will be the key role in getting through this.

"The more people that are vaccinated, the more protection the community has," Fernandez said.

She added that West Texas is in a privileged position right now due to the vaccine rollout.

Ratliff Stadium was used as a mass vaccination site numerous times in January and February.

Fernandez said the rollout in West Texas has been impressive compared to the rest of the state and country and will go a long way to building immunity in the Permian Basin.

"The more that people are protected with immunity from the vaccine, plus the people that got sick and immunity from the virus, it's going to be a huge advantage for us as a community and we could see less and less cases of resistant variants," Fernandez said. "That's because you already have people that are developing immunity one way or the other."

The spread of the variants has also come at a time where some states (including Texas) have started to relax rules regarding business capacities and mask mandating.

"I do think that being smart about your choices are very important and what I mean by that is if you're in a house with a protected environment, the use of mask is not going to make a difference," Fernandez said. "If you have your vaccines and limit your contact and do your basic without exposing other people, it's good. I don't want to get political. I just think it should be a smart decision. People should know when to identify if there's any risky situations and if so, take the measurements to avoid any extra exposures."