On this episode of Social Distance, James Hamblin and Katherine Wells talk to staff writer Ed Yong about why he isn’t alarmed by recent news stories suggesting that a new strain of the coronavirus is on the loose.
Listen to the episode here:
What follows is an edited and condensed transcript of their conversation.
Katherine Wells: Ed, I read something yesterday in the L.A. Times about a new mutant coronavirus strain that is even worse than the original.
Ed Yong: This story was based on a new paper which claims to have identified a more transmissible form of the virus, which, thanks to one specific mutation, seems to spread more efficiently than the original virus that emerged in Wuhan. Much panic and fear ensued about this idea that this pandemic, which was already bad enough, is just getting worse.
People have this understanding of viruses as things that continually change and evolve, so there is a risk that the virus that we’re dealing with now might become worse. These are legitimate concerns and things that scientists want to be watchful for. But I don’t think there is any strong evidence that any of that has come to pass or of what this particular study and the rather inflammatory news reports based on it have claimed, which is that there is a more transmissible form or strain of the coronavirus. I don’t think there’s strong evidence that that actually exists or even that there are multiple strains at all. Most of the virologists I’ve spoken to would agree that there is basically just one virus that the world is dealing with.