By TOMMY REZAC
St. Joseph Post
New cases of COVID-19 and the number of people hospitalized with the virus' complications have gone down over the last few weeks in St. Joseph and Buchanan County.
The rollout of the vaccine and the availability of infusion treatments at area hospitals have helped provide relief. However, experts are hesitant to say when exactly life will return to the way it was prior to the pandemic.
Missouri Western science professor Dr. Gary Clapp, a COVID-19 advisor for the St. Joseph City Council, says the new strains of COVID that have spread in the U.K., South Africa and also the U.S., make it hard to predict what the future holds.
"The future is really crystal ball-like," Clapp said. "Which variant will be coming next and will we have to create another vaccine for it? My guess is, yes. There will be another vaccine coming around again next year and it'll be for the most predominant variant, and it won't be that different from the one we take right now."
New variants of the virus have been identified in 21 U.S. states, but not yet Missouri. Experts say the new strain can be up to 50 percent more contagious, but Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious diseases expert, says the more vaccine that gets out, the less chance the virus has of mutating.
While a new variant could re-infect people who've already had COVID-19, there's no evidence to suggest that the new variants are more deadly, or cause more intense symptoms, than the original virus.
Clapp says the best defenses are the ones already in use - face masks, social distancing and hand-washing.
"If you had it and survived it, chances are you'll survive the next one too," Clapp said. "So, that should be a good thought. But, mask up, y'all."
Many are hopeful that once COVID vaccines become more readily available to the general public in spring, life can mostly return to normal this summer.
Clapp says there's reason to be optimistic about summer, because viruses don't do well in UV light. While much progress has been made over the last month, Clapp says the next 30-60 days will be important to watch.
"If we look back to where we were 30 days ago," Clapp said, "we've made tremendous progress. So, before we jump out and say summer is the target, let's look at the next 30-60 days and reevaluate."
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