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COVID, Quickly, Episode 6: The Real Reason for India's Surge and Mask Liftoff

by Scientific American
May 7th 2021
Today we bring you a new episode in our podcast series: COVID, Quickly. Every two weeks,  Scientific American ’s senior health editors  Tanya Lewis  and  Josh ... More
answer me this. How long have you had that mattress? Because it's looking even lumpy er than my lockdown love handles and while those might be more cuddly a lumpy mattress is doing nothing for your comfort levels or your sleep. So whatever body you're rocking, put it on a nectar mattress prices start at just $499 and you get $399 and accessories thrown in. That includes a nectar mattress, mattress protector, cooling pillows and sheets. Set a 365 night home trial and a forever warranty. Go to nectar sleep dot com and get hugged Hi and welcome to Covid Quickly a scientific american podcast series. This is your fast track update on the covid pandemic. We bring you up to speed on the science behind the most urgent questions about the virus and the disease. We demystify the research and help you understand what it really means. I'm Tonya Lewis and I'm josh fishermen were scientific american's senior

health editors. today. We're discussing whether human behavior or virus variants led to India's covid catastrophe and we'll talk about ways to make sense of CDCs, new mass guidance and what it means when we're coming out of the caves we've been in for the past year. The covid situation in India right now is just devastating. Has bodies piling up and shortages of critical supplies like oxygen. Big question is how did things get so bad josh? You've been looking at two possible culprits. What can you tell us? The first thing I can say is that people want to blame new virus variants is one of those culprits. But they're wrong, experts say the problem stems from what people, not variants have done in India. The country has gone from 100 to 200 deaths per day in the first months of this year to a shocking climb in april and may. About 4000 people are dying of covid every day now and as you say, everyone wants to know why this happened. Many seem eager to blame a new variant, the

BBC and other media like calling it the double mutant because that sounds scary and it has two mutations, but I'll call it by the last three numbers. Virologists used to name it 617 Vaughn cooper, a microbiologist at the University of Pittsburgh who tracks these viral versions, told me 617 is just not a vicious microbe overrunning the country. For instance, it has less ability to evade antibodies than variants that have become dominant in South africa and brazil And it may not even be widespread in India. Cooper says the country does not track these variants very closely. Ravi Gupta, a microbiologist at the University of Cambridge, did a small test on 617. He put the variant into test tubes with antibodies from nine people who had one shot of the Pfizer vaccine. The variance mutations didn't help it, antibodies nailed it. Gupta's conclusions vaccinations work and this viral version isn't particularly awful and please stop calling it a double mutant. He says most of the variants running around the world now have at least two mutations

. It's a meaningless term, it's fair. But what about vaccines? Could those help with the surge at all? Yes, they could. But here's a real problem. India doesn't have a lot of vaccines. Only about nine of its people have had one shot in the us. That number is 45 in Israel at 60%. What India does have a lot of, starting in March was unprotected crowds. There were tens of thousands of people going to pilgrimages and non religious holidays and going to giant political rallies. Prime Minister Narendra modi's party ramped up a campaign with huge events and touted that his government beat the virus restrictions on gatherings went away. No masks, no physical distancing in a country with a lot of people. Now there are 400,000 new infections every day. The bottom line is that people crowding together drove this disaster variants may play some role. Another variant that spread quickly around the UK and in the U. S. Is also in India. But people

and politicians lit the fire with big gatherings and apparently by thinking the virus was not a risk. As these sad events unfold. You may want to donate to help people in India if you're so moved. We've popped the link into the transcript section of our web page for this episode and it lists several organizations that are giving medical aid and food in the US. The CDC recently announced some new guidelines for when vaccinated people can ditch their masks. What are the guidelines say? And how should we interpret them? The new guidelines state that vaccinated people no longer need to wear masks when they're outside, exercising, gathering in small groups outside or dining outside with friends and family. This is welcome news for many of us, we know the risk of covid transmission is extremely low outdoors, although not zero. That's because the virus is thought to spread mainly through airborne droplets or aerosols, which quickly become diluted outside. It's like a drop of die in the ocean as lindsey marr of Virginia tech. Aircell scientists puts it the says

unvaccinated or partially vaccinated. People should still wear masks when they're gathering with friends or family outside their household and both vaccinated and unvaccinated. People should wear them in crowded settings such as sporting events, parades or live performances. All these categories are kind of hard to keep track of though. Yeah, the CDC's doesn't define what counts as a small group of friends and family because it depends on the context and it's somewhat hard to remember all the different scenarios for when vaccinated and unvaccinated people could gather and who still needs to wear masks. Still, it's a first step toward a return to some kind of normalcy, but it's going to feel weird for a while. Many people who have been vaccinated, including me are finding it hard to go bare faced and feel like they're being judged for not wearing a mask. Just a few weeks ago, the same people were judging others for the same behavior and it's not like we're all wearing t shirts announcing our vaccination status eventually. Hopefully enough people will have gotten vaccinated that we can all feel safe letting our masks and our hair down a little. Yeah

. Mhm. Now you're up to speed. Thanks for joining us. Come back in two weeks for the next episode of Covid quickly and check out Siam. Com for updated, in in depth Covid News. Mhm.

COVID, Quickly, Episode 6: The Real Reason for India's Surge and Mask Liftoff
COVID, Quickly, Episode 6: The Real Reason for India's Surge and Mask Liftoff
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