Almost exactly a year after America’s first confirmed case of the “novel Coronavirus” was detected in Snohomish County, two cases of the extra-contagious variant from the UK, dubbed B.1.1.7 (poets, these virologists) have been found in that self-same county, a first for the State of Washington, though hardly for the nation. You Rock, Snohomish County! The CDC predicts that this variant will become dominant in the US by March. This means several things for those of us on the ground here in Washington:
First, up your mask game. If at all possible, wear fresh N95 or KN95 masks in public places. The difference between them is that N95s are made in the US, KN95s are made in China. Both are much better at trapping very small droplets than cloth masks or those light blue surgical masks like Bernie wears, let alone loose-fitting single-layer bandanas or other improvisations. Part of the trick of the N95s and KN95s is that they use static electricity to capture the wee beasties. That full static benefit wears off fast–if you can, use a new mask every day. They also aren’t made to be washed. B.1.1.7 is 40-70% more transmittable (mechanism still being studied), but if it can’t get you, it can’t infect you. The better mask gives you a better chance.
Second, up your distancing game. Minimize trips out and about, and run your trips to the grocery store like Seal Team Six shopping in the Abbotabad Compound at Zero Dark Thirty–in and out in as few minutes as possible. Have a plan! Go, go, go! Give other people a wider berth, and practice hand hygiene like the second coming of Pontius Pilate.
Third, and this is frustrating, make every effort to get vaccinated as soon as possible. Take it from somebody qualified by age who has yet to score a first shot, it’s the wild west right now in Seniorville. The State of Washington is trying hard to ramp up faster, with mixed results to date. I’m cautiously optimistic that it will soon get better, but there are asterisks all over that optimism, because we’re dependent on supply from the Feds, who are dependent on Pfizer and Moderna, who are responding to the whole world, with glitches. Johnson & Johnson has a new vaccine coming out of Phase III soon. If it’s good it will really help, since J&J can crank out a lot of vaccine in a hurry. It’s also a single-shot vaccine and requires simple refrigeration, not dark-side-of-the-moon freezing.
Fourth, if you’ve had your first shot and are waiting for your second, assume you have very little immunity–most of the protection these vaccines provide kicks in about two weeks AFTER the second dose. After that, keep masking and distancing, because it’s possible that you can still transmit, even if you don’t get sick.
Fifth, we’re in the worst of it now, the “darkest before dawn” (and after Don) phase. Ask anybody who’s been vaccinated–that fist of anxiety that has been clenched inside you for a year will soon begin to ease it’s grip. If you can manage to stay well for these next few months, things will begin to get better. It won’t be quick and easy, but we’ll be on the upslope again as 2021 wears on. It’ll feel like a real shot in the arm.