Three new mutated strains of the SARS-CoV-2 virus which causes COVID-19 has been discovered in recent months:
The UK Strain: B.1.1.7
The South African Strain: B.1.351
The Nigerian Strain (newest): B.1.1.207
These mutations occurred independently of each other and resulted in various changes to the spike protein, which is the structure on the viral surface that interacts with our body's cells (aka. the viral "key" to the "lock" of human cells).
These mutations are dangerous in the sense that the resulting variants are more transmissible compared to the initial lineage that began the pandemic. In lab studies, the newer strains appeared to out-compete older strains in vitro. A new study from England indicates that the new UK strain appeared to have a 50 - 75% transmissibility advantage. This means that the newer strains are adapting to more efficient transmission amongst the human population.
There is also some reported evidence that the South African strain is causing higher rates of severe COVID-19 symptoms in younger patients. However, more studies are likely needed to confirm these anecdotal reports.
So far only the UK variant has been found in the US (California, Colorado, and Florida), as well as multiple other countries. Unfortunately for us, some of the discovered cases appear to be community spread, as in the person infected did not travel recently and caught the variant in their own community.
The main worry amongst scientists is that eventually these types of mutations may render PCR tests as well as recently approved vaccines ineffective. The good news is that so far this does not appear to be the case with these newer strains.
What this means for us is that we need to remain ever more vigilant in our daily activities. We must continue to wear face coverings, limit gatherings, and wash our hands with soap and water after touching potentially contaminated surfaces. Our hospitals (especially in CA) is near the breaking point. We must do all we can to lessen the heavy burden placed on our healthcare workers, as more than 2,900 have already perished from COVID-19 since March, 2020.