SAN DIEGO – Gov. Gavin Newsom’s decision to lift the COVID-19 stay-at-home order, comes just as a more contagious virus variant is spreading in San Diego, a scientist at Scripps Research said Wednesday.
The variant spreads much faster than the original virus from China, so this is not the time to encourage gathering with others at restaurants, hair salons and gyms, warned Daniel Oran with Scripps Research.
“The risk that we face now is that we’re in a kind of race between these new variants and our ability to vaccinate quickly,” Oran said.
“The (virus variant) from the UK we think spreads 50% to 70% more quickly than the previous versions that have been in wide circulation. We have to be really careful,” Oran said.
The new, faster spreading variant is predicted to become the dominant strain of the virus as soon as next month, Oran said. That will accelerate the spread of COVID-19 and threaten to outpace the rate at which San Diegans are vaccinated against the disease, he explained.
Although progress is being made in the effort to vaccinate the population, Oran and others say the pace is too slow to achiever so-called herd immunity from COVID-19 any time soon. Experts say that about 70% of the population needs to get vaccinated to stop the spread of the disease.
“We’ve had 24 million vaccinations in the last six weeks,” Oran said. “At 4 million a week, it will take us until March 2022 to vaccinate the 260 million adults who are now eligible.”
Even if health officials are able to double the current vaccination rate, it would take until August or September to vaccinate 70% of the population. That’s why Oran says now is the time for investment in home rapid antigen tests for everyone.
“They talk about PCR test being the gold standard of testing. This is the one they’re using primarily for the last 10 months. The problem is, it is so sensitive it catches people who are actually not infectious anymore,” Oran explained. “In contrast, these rapid antigen home tests are great at spotting people just when they are infectious, so they really have just the right characteristics we need right now, and they really could help us slow down the spread of the virus and potentially avoid a situation where more and more of these new variants are appearing.”
If the rapid antigen tests become widely available, people can quickly determine if they become infected and self-quarantine. Oran also suggested that now is a good time to upgrade your mask. If you can’t get an N95 mask because they are in short supply, consider wearing two lower quality masks to increase your protection when you leave home. And make sure the masks fully cover your nose and mouth so you are properly protected.