To the editor:
A characteristic of coronaviruses is their ability to mutate. Once the virus has inhabited a human host it directs that host to make more virus. This propagation of viral particles leads to changes in the genetic makeup of the new viruses. Most of the changes do not benefit the host (us) or the virus and they are not sustained.
In some cases however, the mutant change does benefit the virus either by making the new mutant more contagious or more lethal. These more effective mutants spread within a community and become the new dominant strain. With each effective mutation the virus derives some benefit.
The majority of the current viral mutations such as the UK variant have proven to be significantly more contagious. The Brazilian variant may prove to be more lethal. Imposing travel restrictions may prove effective in preventing the spread of the known mutations.
However, travel restrictions do not prevent the current viruses circulating within the U.S. from developing more successful mutations. Dr. Fauci has stated that propagation is necessary for mutation. We are seeing this in new strains identified in California.
The potential for viral propagation to allow for a more lethal strain of virus is real. We have not vaccinated enough of our population to reduce this risk. Our only current way to reduce the risk for mutation of the SARS-CoV-2 into a more dangerous strain is to limit human infection with the virus. Our best protection for this is to wear an appropriate mask covering the nose and mouth whenever in public and to maintain social distancing among non-family members. President Biden has asked the public to mask appropriately for 100 days.
There is significant evidence that masking reduces viral spread and that reduces risk of community infection and the ability of the virus to mutate. Assuming individual responsibility for that 100 days of masking reduces our risk and allows more time to get more of our community vaccinated and protected.
Without community cooperation we allow the virus an opportunity to mutate to a yet more effective stain with every individual infection.