Viruses mutate all the time, and the COVID-19 virus has been mutating since it first latched onto human DNA. A few highly contagious strains of the virus were first detected in late 2020 and early 2021 and began proliferating largely because countries have been unable to keep the pandemic in check.
These strains aren’t necessarily more deadly than previous strains, but they appear to be more infectious, according to experts Global Citizen recently interviewed.
As the past 12 months have shown, the virus surges when people become complacent and governments fail to maintain lockdown measures and disburse sufficient government aid. This past month has seen a surge in infections worldwide, and countries like the US have suffered from record casualties.
The deployment of vaccines suggests a light at the end of the COVID tunnel, but very few people statistically have been vaccinated and herd immunity — the protection resulting from most of a population being immune to an infectious disease — is a long way off, especially on a global level.
As a result, if you want to avoid catching and spreading the new COVID strains, you’ll have to take some extra precautionary measures.
Here are four ways you can become better protected against the virus right now.
1. Increase your handwashing and hygiene measures
The new COVID-19 strains are more infectious, which means routine interactions in grocery stores, retail outlets, and apartment buildings become more fraught with risk.
“Given the smaller infectious dose required to transmit the new strains, activities such as touching credit card pads or gas pump handles become riskier,” Dr. Scott Braunstein, medical director of Sollis Health in Los Angeles, told Healthline. “Keep a small bottle of sanitizer with you so that you can immediately sanitize after these activities.”
In addition to sanitizing your hands regularly, you can also disinfect surfaces that could potentially harbor the virus. Handwashing frequency has picked up worldwide over the past year, and as new COVID-19 strains spread, it’s no time to take a break from lathering your hands up with soap and warm water.
2. Double-up your mask
If you’re going to a crowded area or if you have a flimsy mask, it might be a good idea to wear two masks at one time. Health experts say that doubling-up masks can significantly reduce the likelihood that infected droplets will reach your nasal passages — especially if you’ve normally opted for less-specialized cloth masks until now.
“If you have a physical covering with one layer, you put another layer on, it just makes common sense that it likely would be more effective,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the United States’ top infectious disease expert and chief medical adviser on COVID-19 for President Biden, said on the Today show in January.
3. Maintain social distancing
We’ve all become acquainted with the idea of a social bubble in an epidemiological sense over the past year. Your bubble is all the people you come into contact with, plus all the people they come into contact with — meaning it could be exponential. The people who are in your bubble should be those you trust not to have the virus and are taking all the necessary precautions to prevent the spread.
As new strains of COVID-19 spread, it’s important to maintain your social bubbles with even more diligence. In other words, keep following physical distance guidelines and quarantine or isolate as necessary.
The better people are at maintaining their bubbles, the sooner the curve will flatten.
4. Get vaccinated as soon as you’re eligible
More than 100 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been given to people worldwide, according to Bloomberg. The vaccine rollout has been marked by extreme global inequality, with the world’s poorest countries receiving fewer than a 100 doses so far.
If you’re in a position to receive the vaccine — if you’re in a demographic most at risk or a frontline worker — then get vaccinated as soon as you can. Otherwise, wait until you're eligible and get vaccinated as soon as a spot opens up. That’s the only way we’ll overcome the pandemic and defeat the new strains.