Taking precautions against the novel coronavirus has become an everyday fact of life since the pandemic began. But with the discovery of a new highly contagious mutated variant of the virus from the U.K., medical experts are warning that the increased transmissibility will likely lead to a spike in cases on top of an already dire national surge. Fortunately, there are still ways to protect yourself and others from the new COVID strain that’s spreading across the U.S.—and much of what experts recommend is familiar advice. Read on to see what steps will keep you safe, and for more on what else you can do to cut your risk, check out If You’re Not Doing This, Your Mask Won’t Protect You, Study Says.
With the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) predicting that the U.K. variant will likely become the dominant strain across the U.S. by March, many experts were originally fearful that the strain—which is at least 50 percent more contagious—could be difficult to contain. But while the virus may have slightly changed, it turns out that the best course of action for avoiding contracting it is to keep following the same basic health precautions that have been recommended since day one, such as wearing a face mask, avoiding crowds, regular hand washing, and avoiding spending time indoors with people you don’t live with.
Instead of a new routine, experts recommend simply being diligent on what we already know works. “I think there is no room for error or sloppiness in following precautions, whereas before, we might have been able to get away with letting one slide,” Linsey Marr, PhD, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech and leading aerosol scientist, told the New York Times.
Even though a global pandemic may be raging on around us, the need to run to the grocery store for essential supplies still exists. But with a highly contagious strain becoming the norm, the trip to the supermarket has become riskier than ever.
Fortunately, there’s no reason to go hungry: experts simply recommend cutting back on time to limit your exposure. “Shopping for five minutes in the grocery store is a lot better—six times better—than shopping for 30 minutes,” Tom Frieden, MD, former director of the CDC, told Vox. “Picking up groceries at the curbside is even better, and having them delivered is even better still.” And for more on what your symptoms could be telling you, check out This Is the “Strongest, Most Consistent” Sign You Have COVID, Study Says.
There’s no denying that wearing a mask will help protect you and others from the novel coronavirus. But many cloth masks, which were meant to be used as a stopgap during the earliest days of the pandemic, fall short of the protection you may need to stay safe amidst a new, highly contagious strain, Vox reports.
Experts say N95 masks provide the best protection, but with short supplies available, there are still other options. A study conducted by Marr’s laboratory at Virginia Tech in November looked at masks made of 11 different materials and found that properly fitted cloth masks made of three layers—including a filter layer—could filter up to 90 percent of particles, bring it close to the 95 percent provided by N95, the New York Times reports. If not, doubling up cloth masks can provide a safer option in a pinch.
Despite the new contagious strain, medical experts still contend that the effective vaccines currently being rolled out are the most likely way to finally curb the pandemic once and for all. A recent CDC report stated that because of the new nature of the virus, more of the population would now need to be inoculated for it to be truly effective.
“Increased transmissibility also means that higher than anticipated vaccination coverage must be attained to achieve the same level of disease control to protect the public compared with less transmissible variants,” the CDC’s report said. And for more on what you should know before you get your jab, check out The FDA Just Ruled You Can’t Do These 4 Things With the COVID Vaccines.