What we know about mutated coronavirus strain in Houston

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- New medical research published in a journal this week reveals that a mutated strain of the virus could be stronger and potentially more contagious than the original coronavirus.

Chair of Molecular Virology and Microbiology at Baylor College of Medicine, Joseph Petrosino, said studies have shown that this mutation has been found in Europe and in places in the U.S., including Houston, for months now.

According to the Houston Health Department, the city's positivity rate for COVID-19 testing is nearly double the state's rate.

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"It's still SARS COVID-2, it's just a mutant strain," Petrosino explained. "What may have changed is this particular variant may be more transmissible, more easily passed from person to person or more contagious because of the changes in the spike protein. However, that has not been documented outside of a laboratory, and more research will be needed to say that for certain."

Petrosino said as more research has to be done, it's important for the community to stay informed, but he does not want this emerging evidence to spark fear.

"Mutation in viruses happen all the time and this particular mutant, while it's able to outlast its big brother and/or predecessor, it doesn't seem to pose any different type of threat to people at all," Petrosino said. "There is no need to be alarmed."

However, he said this is why it's important, now more than ever, for people to be vigilant and to do their part to slow the spread of COVID-19.

This gives researchers more time to find a vaccine.

This includes the CDC's recommendations of wearing a mask, practicing social distancing, and staying at home if you feel sick.

"There's a way to reopen and there's a way to do so safely, and the more that businesses and the public practice those behaviors, the more effectively we can return to as close to normal as possible," Petrosino said.

Gov. Greg Abbott's statewide mask mandate went into effect on July 3, requiring Texans to wear a mask or facial covering when out in public. According to the governor, the order applies to all counties in the state with more than 20 confirmed COVID-19 cases.

For more on CDC recommendations for personal and social activities, click here.



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