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Emory researcher: ‘Many more’ COVID-19 variants on the way

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Emory researcher: ‘Many more’ COVID-19 variants on the way

Dr. Colleen Kraft, associate chief medical officer at Emory University Hospital and associate professor at Emory University School of Medicine. (Screenshot via Zoom)
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By Patrick Saunders, contributor 

Atlanta, GA — More COVID-19 variants with higher transmissibility rates will likely arrive in Georgia this year, but they can be defeated with widespread mask-wearing, according to an Emory University infectious disease expert.

“If everyone is masked, there’s no exposure,” Dr. Colleen Kraft said in a press briefing on Tuesday. “We have the tools in order to minimize transmission and eliminate it.”

The new variants are more contagious, but there’s no evidence that they’re more lethal, Kraft said. However, with higher transmissibility comes more infections and deaths, she added.

The first COVID-19 variant was identified in Georgia earlier this month, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health. Expect more on the way, Kraft said.

“I’m sure there will be many more we identify in the coming months,” Kraft said.

President Joe Biden on Monday banned travel by noncitizens into the U.S. from South Africa due to concerns about a COVID-19 variant spreading in that country. Biden also extended bans on travel from Brazil, Britain and Europe. Those bans are “good,” but it all comes back to masks, Kraft said.

“If we all could wear masks and behave like we’re in this terrible pandemic, any transmission we can stop at all is going to help against these variants,” she said.

The variants cause no new symptoms at this point, but they pose a “very significant threat” to reaching herd immunity. The bigger threat is vaccine hesitancy, Kraft said.

“The more people that get the vaccine in all communities, the better that the community will respond,” she said. “Just knowing people that have gotten it and done fine is perhaps the best messaging.”

But vaccine distribution has been problematic across the U.S. since the first ones were authorized in December. The issue has been felt in DeKalb County. Gov. Brian Kemp will hold a press conference on Tuesday to give an update on the vaccine in Georgia.

Emory began Phase 3 of a clinical trial for the Novavax COVID-19 vaccine in December. It is the third late-stage vaccine candidate being evaluated by Emory researchers.

The state of Georgia has had 722,062 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 11,854 related deaths as of Monday. There have been 45,063 cases and 569 deaths in DeKalb.

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