Scientists scramble to determine if mutant strain of coronavirus will deepen pandemic

Question: Let’s begin with a gut check. The public has been upset about the coronavirus for nearly a year. Does a mutant version of the virus pose a much deeper level of trouble?

Lemke: Not necessarily. All viruses mutate during infection cycles, and most mutations are either of no impact or actually weaken a virus. SARS-CoV-2 has mutated repeatedly during this infection cycle. Concerns arise when mutations enhance virus infectivity, lethality or transmissibility.

Binkin: The rapid rise of cases in Southern England, despite all the measures undertaken to control spread, is alarming. If these mutations have made the virus more infectious by increasing the viral load or by shortening the incubation period or prolonging how long people remain infectious, this would have serious implications for stopping further spread.

If the mutations also made the currently available treatments such as monoclonal antibodies less effective or the new vaccines less protective, this would also be very serious.

Scheuermann: I am not really worried about this strain, mainly because infections are running rampant in the United States already. So if another strain comes in maybe it will increase tranmissibility rates a bit. But they’re already high and it doesn’t appear that the virus is more virulent than the original. If it was, I would be more worried.