A South King Fire & Rescue firefighter places a used test swab into a secure COVID test vial on Nov. 18, 2020, at a Federal Way testing site. (Sound Publishing file photo)

A South King Fire & Rescue firefighter places a used test swab into a secure COVID test vial on Nov. 18, 2020, at a Federal Way testing site. (Sound Publishing file photo)

Masks are still king in combating new COVID strains

A top UW doctor talks new strains, masks and when normal could return.

New variants of the coronavirus are circulating in King County, but health experts say the same measures that have proven effective in stopping the virus so far should continue to offer protection.

The global pandemic took root in the U.S. in February 2020 at Kirkland’s Life Care Center. Since then, the pandemic has led to nearly 500,000 deaths and nearly 28 million cases across the country. Several variants of the virus have emerged, often bearing the names of the countries where they were first noticed.

One variant which was discovered in the U.K. is expected to be the dominant strain in King County by March, according to Dr. Seth Cohen, medical director of Infection Prevention at the University of Washington Medical Center. This strain is thought to spread more easily and quickly than other variants.

The Centers for Disease Control also reports that it may increase the risk of death compared to other variants of the virus, but more studies are needed to confirm that. It was first detected in the U.S. in December, and in King County in January.

There are two other major variants — one first detected in South Africa and another in Brazil. Both of these variants were detected in the U.S. in January as well, according to the CDC.

This means the virus is mutating. There’s the possibility that the virus could mutate to a point where currently developed vaccines become less effective against it, but the CDC states that, currently, it appears the vaccines still work. However, there’s evidence that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines may have reduced effectiveness against the South African variant, the Washington Post wrote on Feb. 18.

That’s the bad news, but the upshot, Cohen said, is that the same precautions and safety measures that were effective against the original strain of COVID-19 offer protection against the new strains. These include physical distancing, mask wearing, practicing good hygiene and proper ventilation of enclosed spaces.

“The big variable in my mind that would let rates start to creep up again is if people change their social behaviors and start to really pump the brakes in terms of masking and distancing,” he said.

After the inauguration of President Joe Biden in January, where several members of the cabinet and Congress were seen with two masks, the idea of double masking has become more common. Cohen said he’s glad people are talking about how many masks they should be wearing, instead of whether they should wear one or not.

He pointed to the CDC recommendation that people should be wearing something over their mouth and nose that’s at least two or three layers thick, and properly sealed so air doesn’t leak out around the sides. That can be satisfied by either one high-quality mask or two. The most important part of the mask equation is that everyone wears one.

“The best double masking is when one person is masked and the other person is masked,” he said. “As long as everybody in a particular encounter is masked, that’s the most important thing.”

There are also questions around when King County and the country could get back to normal, or something resembling it. Cohen said for him, normal means having his kids back in school in-person, and being able to see other generations of his family like his parents. That will happen once his kids, grandparents and himself are vaccinated.

“We’re certainly hoping that most people will be vaccinated by the summer,” he said. “There is a lot that can happen between now and then, but really thinking about summer as a goal of feeling a little more normal would be terrific.”


Talk to us

Please share your story tips by emailing editor@auburn-reporter.com.

To share your opinion for publication, submit a letter through our website https://www.auburn-reporter.com/submit-letter/. Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We’ll only publish your name and hometown.) Please keep letters to 300 words or less.

More in News

File photo
APD looking for one more member for the Police Advisory Committee

The city of Auburn formed its Police Advisory Committee last fall to… Continue reading

A South King Fire & Rescue firefighter places a used test swab into a secure COVID test vial on Nov. 18, 2020, at a Federal Way testing site. (Sound Publishing file photo)
Masks are still king in combating new COVID strains

A top UW doctor talks new strains, masks and when normal could return.

Washington State Capitol Building in Olympia. File photo
Democrats look to allow noncitizens to serve on school boards

A Senate bill takes aim at a state law requiring anyone seeking elected office to be a citizen.

A CVS pharmacist prepares a COVID-19 vaccine at Village Green Retirement Campus in Federal Way on Jan. 26. Olivia Sullivan/Sound Publishing
State health leader: We have a plan, we don’t have the supply

Two months after the COVID vaccine landed in Washington, many still struggle to secure their shots.

Gov. Jay Inslee talks about schools reopening during a Tuesday news conference. (TVW)
Inslee signs $2.2 billion COVID relief package

The federal funds will go to fight COVID, aid renters and reopen shuttered schools and businesses.

The Auburn School District begins its incremental return to in-person learning on March 3, according to Auburn School District Superintendent Dr. Alan Spicciati. File photo
ASD’s step-by-step return to in-person instruction starts March 3

The Auburn School District’s incremental return to in-person instruction begins March 3,… Continue reading

File photo
How the pandemic and coronavirus variants can show us evolution in real time

Scientists say viruses reproduce and mutate at higher rates, creating viral variants.

Courtesy photo
Former APD Chief Jake Evans.
Former Auburn Police Chief Jake Evans dies

Auburn’s famous Excedrin tampering case of 1985 shined a light on the… Continue reading

Veteran VRFA firefighter David Swanson retired on Feb. 14, bringing a close to a 30-year career in the fire service. Courtesy photo.
VRFA Firefighter David Swanson retires

David Swanson was a 15-year old kid, he said, “headed down the… Continue reading

Most Read