New COVID Strains Show Need for Bold Strategies in Addressing Public Health in America

by on March 8, 2021 · 0 comments

in Civil Rights, Health

By Roberto “Rob” Camacho

In the unprecedented global crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic, the United States has been forced to take a hard look in the mirror and acknowledge societal ills and inequities which unattended have festered for decades.

Over the past twelve months COVID presented a chance to reimagine things such as housing, education, wage increases, access to technology, healthcare, and more. However, due to the actions of the economic elite, and a stubbornly complicit legislature, the lives of everyday people have been crushed to ensure that even in the midst of a deadly pandemic, the status quo has remained the same at all costs. Including the lives of more than half a million people in the U.S. who have died of COVID over the past twelve months.

In contrast, other developed nations – many already equipped with social programs and safety nets not available in the U.S. – such as Canada for instance, which approved a massive C$27 billion COVID-19 Economic Response Plan early in the pandemic to help individual Canadians and businesses by issuing monthly payments of $2,000 for four months.

Responses like this not only made economic sense, they have helped keep the populace of such nations safe and most importantly allowed them to remain at home where they would be less likely to contract and spread the virus.

The United States, however, rather than enact the same bold economic action taken by other developed nations, opted to deputize the poor and working-class, newly christened as ‘essential workers’ to uphold the bottom lines of status quo and to bear the physical, psychological, and economic brunt of the pandemic.

It goes without saying that inept leadership, the lack of organized federal response, and an endless stream of misinformation from Donald Trump undoubtedly played a significant part in where the nation currently stands.

However, the United States’ inability or refusal to institute policies and public awareness programs emphasizing the importance of mask mandates, social distancing, and the closure of non-essential businesses and institutions is at the crux of why the U.S. is now and has been the global epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Over the past year, health experts have pleaded with the federal and state governments to craft policies making public safety, the well-being of the sick and immunocompromised patients, and vulnerable communities the central focus of COVID response efforts. To many people’s dismay however politics, misinformation, and the individualist mentality ingrained into much of U.S. culture has by and large outweighed scientific fact, consensus, and reason in-regards to crafting policy.

This is made all the more alarming as states such as Texas and Mississppi plan to lift mask mandates and increasing capacity of all businesses and facilities to “100%”, as new more virulent and contagious COVID variants start to take root instates throughout the U.S. and potentially threaten to derail the nation’s COVID vaccination campaign.

Needless to say, the federal government has not only been woefully slow to enact financial aid to the poor and working class of this nation. It has been woefully inept in rolling out educational campaigns highlighting the dangers that unnecessary social gatherings and irresponsible business reopenings pose as mechanisms proliferating and acerbating the mutations more virulent and communicable COVID strains.

Even in the midst of a nationwide vaccination campaign, the federal government has been slow to educate the public why continuing public safety protocols, and reducing transmission from person to person is so important to curbing the rise of new COVID variants.

COVID-19, like all of its other relatives in the Coronavirus family such as SARS, MERS, and even the common cold, are all RNA viruses. (RNA stands for Ribonucleic acid and is a polymeric molecule essential in various biological roles in coding, decoding, regulation and expression of genes.) Meaning that their genetic material is encoded in RNA, not DNA. Why is this important? Because DNA is a more stable molecule than RNA, and DNA viruses have a proofreading check as part of their reproductive process. DNA viruses use the machinery of their host cell to verify viral DNA replication – this is how the virus makes copies of itself. Essentially turning cells into virus replication factories, repeating the process over and over again..

If a virus makes an error while copying the DNA, the host cell can usually correct the mistake. As a result, DNA viruses do not change or mutate all that much. All viruses eventually mutate to some extent over time, a process known as antigenic shift, but normally those mutations are far and few in-between. And rarely do they end up actually benefiting the virus. RNA however, is a far more unstable molecule than DNA. RNA viruses don’t have a built-in proofreading step in their replication process like DNA viruses. Mistakes while copying RNA happen very frequently, and the host cell does not correct these mistakes. Because RNA virus mutations are frequent, they can potentially have significant consequences for their hosts, especially when they come in contact with large populations.

This is one of many reasons why virologists have continually emphasized the danger super spreader events and premature reopenings pose amid the COVID-19 pandemic. If left unchecked, large-scale super spreader events in multiple states such as Texas and others prematurely reopening give the virus ample opportunity to mutate. The more chances the virus has to hop from person to person (for example a person who is immune-compromised with little ability to fight off the infection), the greater chances become that a significant mutation like an increased resilience on surfaces, transmissivity, and even lethality can potentially occur.

Right now, preliminary data collected thus far show that mutations present in any of the new COVID variants such as the U.K. variant known as B.1.1.7.,  are linked to a higher risk of hospitalization and death. And health officials  are increasingly concerned that more mutations could alow virus give them the ability to re-infect patients who’ve previously contracted the old strain, or even render newly developed vaccines ineffective if we continue to allow the virus to smolder within the U.S.

As more states fail to slowly curb safety precautions and allow large groups of people to gather and infect others, the longer the nation plays a dangerous game of genetic Russian roulette. A potentially lethal game of chance where new mutations could very well lead to any one of these scenarios and becoming a reality.

It’s important to remember that viruses are a natural force of nature, they’re not malevolent sentient beings. Viruses don’t care about politics, borders, economies, re-election campaigns, rhetoric, or whether we choose to believe in them or not. COVID-19 is not a supernatural biblical plague or a mysterious alien pathogen of unknown origin – it acts and behaves just like other viruses in its family. And medical experts have known for some time what conditions benefit it, what kind of environments/ behaviors promote its spread, and what actions we can take to mitigate its spread.

For the past year, some of the most brilliant doctors, epidemiologists, and virologists in the world have laid out a roadmap on how to respond to the pandemic. Mandatory mask mandates, staying away from large crowds in-door, discouraging social gatherings (including family), keeping institutions like schools, and venues such as bars, restaurants, and other non-essential businesses closed.

And perhaps most importantly, instituting bold economic policies that will allow people to safely shelter in place without the fear of losing their homes or livelihood. The death toll of more than half a million people over the course of a year is a testament to the cruel nature of this virus when allowed free reign to run amok completely unmitigated.

With the appearance of new potentially more dangerous strains now beginning to proliferate, and state leaders adopting fatalistic attitudes in regard to state reopenings, the nation risks stumbling once again even as it is seemingly close to the proverbial finish line.

If the U.S. and its leaders continue to be purposefully aloof, this disease will take advantage of every opportunity that we allow it to mutate, and come roaring back to burn through the population a second time. We don’t have to like the situation we’re in, but the mere act of not liking something doesn’t change material conditions on the ground.

And it certainly isn’t going to change the nature, or mitigate the spread of this disease either. In order to do that, our country’s leadership must summon the collective resolve to implement grand institutional change during this unprecedented crisis that will put the health, safety, and well-being of the nations’ poor and working-class at the paramount of its agenda.


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