Chicago, IL

The Highly Contagious Covid-19 Variant Found in Chicago Means We Can't Stop Wearing Masks Yet

Jennifer Geer

Even if you're fully vaccinated, experts say you need to keep up safeguards like social distancing and wearing masks

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The second case of the Brazil P.1 variant has been found in the Chicago area. The first case in Illinois was confirmed by the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) and Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) a couple of weeks ago.

Recently, a second person located in Lake County, Illinois has tested positive for the new variant. In the first case, we know the individual had not traveled outside of the country. In this most recent case, the travel history of the individual is still unknown.

What is the P.1 variant, and why are experts worried?

The P.1 coronavirus variant, sometimes called the Brazil variant, was first detected in travelers from Brazil during a routine screening in Japan. The variant was confirmed to be in Manaus, Brazil, where a recent surge in Covid-19 cases had been alarming experts.

This variant first showed up in the US in January in Minnesota and has since been detected in several other states, including Illinois.

The P.1 variant is worrisome because this mutation is not only more transmissible than the original virus, but vaccines may not be as effective against it. Additionally, people who have recovered from Covid-19 may not have the antibodies to protect them against this variant.

What are the chances of this variant spreading in Chicago and the US?

Hopefully low. There have only been a handful of cases around the US. Public health experts are carefully keeping track of new strains and mutations like the P.1 to isolate and stop the spread when they find it.

Mutations are one of the reasons we need to keep wearing masks and social distancing

Lake County Health Department Executive Director Mark Pfister has urged residents to continue vigilance against the virus.

“This is the second new variant of COVID-19 to be identified in Lake County since February, and the rise of these new variants could impact the progress we have made this year. We can’t afford to let our guard down. Please continue wearing masks, washing hands, keeping 6 feet of distance from others, and avoiding crowds and poorly ventilated spaces to keep our communities safe."

What other mutations have been found in the Chicago area?

The P.1 variant is not the only variant that has been identified in the past few months in the Chicago area. We have also seen cases of:

  • B.1.1.7 (first found in the UK)
  • B.1.351 (first found in South Africa)

Do vaccines work against the new variants?

They do still work, and it is critical everyone who can get vaccinated do so. But these variants may lead to less efficacy. We may end up needing booster shots to help protect against the newest variety.

This isn't unusual and is why we need flu shots each year; to keep up with new versions of the virus as it adapts.

Experts fear contagious variants may derail our current progress

It's a race to get people vaccinated before these variants are allowed to spread through the community. We may end up needing booster shots or new versions of the current vaccines.

According to IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike, "If something is more transmissible, that would suggest that we need to double down on mask-wearing. Like all those things we've been saying...the message doesn't really change, it just means it's now more important than ever before to adhere to them."

Get vaccinated

So get your vaccine as soon as you can and keep up the safeguards. The good news, Illinois Governor Pritzker announced that all Illinoisians over the age of 16 can begin getting the vaccine starting April 12th.

More businesses are opening, and restrictions are being relaxed. We've made a lot of progress, but we aren't done with this virus yet. The mutation in P.1 and other virus adaptations may make the current vaccines less effective overall, but they are still very effective against hospitalization and death.

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Jennifer covers lifestyle content and local news for the Chicago area.

Chicago, IL
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