COVID tracker: The virus is out-evolving our efforts

  • sleone—

Monitor staff
Published: 12/5/2021 9:41:34 AM

Evolution is an amazing process but when it comes to COVID-19, I wish it would slow down a bit.

The imminent arrival of the Omicron variant while the Delta variant is still rampaging through New Hampshire is not really a surprise. Thanks to evolution people have been worried about this exact scenario since the pandemic began, although “thanks” probably isn’t the right word.

Viruses mutate like crazy and if a random mutation makes it easier for the virus to spread and thrive then it will spread and thrive as long as the environment supports it – that’s how evolution works.

Unfortunately, there’s no hope that the viral world will pause the process while humanity catches up. The only solution is to change the environment. We need to reduce the number of places where viruses can exist long enough to mutate. Hence the rush to vaccinate the whole world as quickly as possible, including getting boosters to as many people as possible.

As I write this we have no evidence that the Omicron variant is in New Hampshire, but it will be. What effect that will have is unclear, since the variant is so new there isn’t good information about how it spreads and, signficiantly, whether it causes worse symptoms.

It requires genetic sequencing of a positive COVID-19 sample to determine which variant exists. The State Public Health Laboratory in Concord does this; through last week it has sequenced almost 2,300 samples, about 100 to 130 samples per week, and about 1,800 that included variants, according to Department of Health and Human Services spokesman Jake Leon.

The lab is “working to enhance strain surveillance as increased samples for sequencing are expected over the next several weeks,” Leon wrote in an email.

UNH, Dartmouth-Hitchcock and the CDC all have labs or contract with private labs to sequence samples: “All told, more than 11,100 samples have been sequenced, including almost 5,000 variants.”

Virtually all positive cases in New Hampshire have been Delta variants for a while now.

Before we get into the depressing numbers, let’s consider one hopeful area: Treatments.

Both Pfizer’s and Merck’s treatments are pill regimens that people take for five days after a positive COVID test. Prizer and Merck are both about to release pills taken for a few days after a positive test that make it harder for the virus to replicate inside the body.

They probably won’t cure you but they look likely to turn a sometimes fatal disease into the equivalent of a bad day with the flu. This is roughly similar to treatments that helped bring AIDS under control in the U.S.

Since we’re certainly going to have to learn to live with COVID-19, that’s very good news indeed.

For coronavirus-related information and updates throughout the week, visit concordmonitor.com/coronavirus.

What’s the trend on the spread and impact of the disease? As bad as it has ever been.

As I write this, the two-week average of new daily reported COVID-19 cases in New Hampshire has hit four digits for the first time: 1,010. The worst it was during last winter’s sure was 871.

Hospitals have hit a record, topping 400 for the first time, leading to fears that we’ll run out of ICU beds, and the death rate has started to edge up after being roughly stable for more than a month.

Even if you’ve had two shots and a chaser, as I have, caution is called for – especially since we don’t have a good read on Omicron variant yet. Keep wearing a mask if you’re in a crowd of strangers and don’t go out of your way to get in such crowds in the first place. It’s going to be a tough couple of months.

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or dbrooks@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)

David Brooks bio photo

David Brooks is a reporter and the writer of the sci/tech column Granite Geek and blog granitegeek.org, as well as moderator of the monthly Science Cafe Concord events. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in mathematics he became a newspaperman, working in Virginia and Tennessee before spending 28 years at the Nashua Telegraph . He joined the Monitor in 2015.



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