Hawaii – Coronavirus Update

Picture of the Corona Virus

By: T. Jeffersonian

Today, a Hawaii state surveillance program reported the Brazilian Coronavirus variant is now present in the state of Hawaii. The Brazilians variant is not exceptionally affected by the antibodies produced naturally through previous virus exposed or by vaccine induced antibodies. There are a multitude of variants, as mutations started occurring as early as the original outbreak in Wuhan. However, other than the Brazilian variant there are at least three other variants that have spread globally, including: (1) United Kingdom, (2) California, and (3) South African. 

The Coronavirus has been seen as early as 2019. The most common strain of the virus is a very early mutation of the original virus from the Wuhan outbreak. Both the California and the United Kingdom (UK) variants spread with more ease than others and are the most prevalent variants found in both their namesake locations. Last weekend, Dr. Anthony Fauci reported that the UK variant is likely to become the most common Coronavirus variant in the United States by the end of March 2021. The recently identified California variant is currently spreading on Maui where 28 cases have been reported  in 2021. Vaccines have historically performed with high efficacy levels against all three of these Coronavirus strains. 

           Unfortunately, the Brazilian and the South African variants are significantly more virulent in comparison. Dr. Fauci recently reported that vaccines are only 50 percent effective in preventing the South African variant. However, other outlets disagree and report that vaccines are much effective against the Brazilian and the South African variants. Currently there are no reports of the South African variant in the Hawaii islands; however, a recent visiting resident from the mainland returned to the islands and reportedly tested positive for the Brazilian variant. That specific case was asymptomatic but fortunately was caught early. There have been nearly two dozen Brazilian variant cases reported in the United States and there have been no reports of the South African variant. Dr. Fauci reported that specific vaccines for the South African variant are currently being developed.

Despite Hawaii’s gradual reopening and return to normalcy, complacency will not only reverse all progress achieved so far but it will also lead to further Coronavirus mutation and spread. A typical Coronavirus accumulates only two single-letter mutations in its genome per month. What is a genome?  A genome is an organism’s complete set of genetic makeup and instructions. Each genome contains all of the information needed to build an organism, allow it to develop, and carry out a multitude of functions. The novel Coronavirus has a very short genetic message written in different combinations of the same four letters. Each letter is the initial of a chemical compound containing different amounts of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen and oxygen. The four letters are a, u, g, c.

These four letters write 30,000-character codes with enough instructions to penetrate a human cell, hijack its machinery and make thousands of copies of itself. The instructions for the human cell to manufacture the Coronavirus’ main weapon – spike proteins, used as a key by new viruses to gain access to more and more cells – is contained in only 4,000 of the 30,000 letters that make up the novel Coronavirus. Again, the Coronavirus mutates only two letters out of 30,000 letters monthly. This rate of change is about half of The Flu and one-quarter that of HIV.

The Flu and HIV both mutate much faster than Coronavirus; however, that does not diminish our need to prevent the spread and the eventual mutations of the Coronavirus. Most of the time when a virus mutates, the resulting variants are benign or even weakened versions of the original pathogen. However, The Coronavirus is spreading uncontrollably all over the world, thus it is more likely to evolve into more efficient versions such as the UK, California, Brazilian, and South African variants. Over time, it is possible that a future Coronavirus mutation can result in a variant that is even more contagious, more deadly, or harder to prevent through vaccination.

Hawaiians, we must continue to mask up, maintain social distancing, wash hands, sanitize spaces, and get the vaccine as soon as possible. The end is in sight, but we are not out of this pandemic by a long shot. Take it seriously and do your part.