Local epidemiologist concerned over variant of concern transmission

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With a B.C. ski resort at the centre of a P1 variant of concern outbreak, a local epidemiologist is sounding the alarm over outdoor COVID-19 transmission.

Cynthia Carr, an epidemiologist and founder of EPI Research Inc., says the outbreak is the largest P1 variant outbreak outside of Brazil.

“Outdoors, we want to be clear, that it is safer, but it is not safe. An increase in risk indoors is also an increase in risk outdoors,” said Carr.

The P1, commonly known as the Brazil variant, is two and a half times more infectious than the original virus. While this variant has yet to be detected in Manitoba Carr given the opportunity to spread it will.

“With every person that transmits this virus is the opportunity to for mutations to occur,” said Carr.

“Sometimes they don’t matter at all, sometimes they become variants of concern, sometimes those variants could become variants of high consequence.”

According to Carr this is what we should be concerned about right now. If a virus reaches the level of variant of high consequence it means diagnostic testing, treatment and vaccines wouldn’t work or would have a different clinical impact.

Data from patients of current variants of concern has shown a much quicker change from infection to hospitalization and then needing ICU care, according to Carr. The age of patients is also a concern.

”A trend toward more younger people being hospitalized. Now we need to be careful in interpreting that, because we know that as we’re successful in vaccinating the highest-risk population we would expect proportionally older people to make up smaller numbers of hospitalizations,”Carr said.

Due to the high risk of transmission of some variants of concern Carr said it isn’t surprising to see a variant of concern become a dominant strain. She said if you combine a variant and a super spreader event case numbers can grow exponentially.

“As a community we need to do what we can, stay distant, keep our masks on to stop the escalation in cases.”

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