Why is the novel coronavirus variant from the United Kingdom so much more contagious?
Why the U.K. variant is ‘stickier’
Dr. Jonathan Reiner, a professor of medicine and surgery at George Washington University, told CNN the new B.1.1.7 variant — which was originally discovered in the United Kingdom — can latch onto people more than the original mutation.
So here’s how it works. The novel coronavirus connects with cells due to its spike proteins, which surround the virus. For the original strain of the coronavirus, “you need a certain inoculum — a certain amount of virus — in order for the infection to basically stick,” Reiner said, according to CNN.
One viral particle probably wouldn’t make you sick. But a lot of the virus particles — transmitted from person to person — can make someone really sick.
- “So these new variants, particularly the U.K. variant, seem to be stickier. So the notion is that it’s more contagious, so to speak, because potentially you don’t need as much of an inoculum to get sick,” Reiner said.
- “You can be in a place and maybe have a briefer exposure or have a smaller exposure — more casual exposure — and then get infected,” Reiner said, per CNN.
So maybe there was a time when you talked to someone who had been infected but wasn’t wearing a mask for five seconds. Nothing happened. Now, it might switch.
A look at Michigan
Michigan’s recent COVID-19 surge might be the prime example of this happening in real-time. Cases in Michigan have jumped among younger people, specifically those who are engaging in youth sports, according to Click on Detroit.
- “Since January, basketball, hockey and wrestling have had the highest number of COVID cases and clusters, with 376 cases linked to basketball and 256 to hockey,” Click on Detroit reported.
- A casual encounter — like a youth sporting event — might not have allowed the virus to spread quickly between players, coaches and staffs, especially if there were masks being worn. Now, it seems that’s not the case.
- “I encourage communities to make adjustments to meet their unique needs and circumstances,” Walensky said. “For example, in areas of substantial or high community transmission, CDC guidance specifically suggests refraining from youth sports that are not outside and cannot be conducted at least 6 feet apart.”