I-TEAM: Following COVID-19 from the east coast to the west coast

(Source: WRDW)
(Source: WRDW)(WRDW)
Published: May. 6, 2020 at 6:55 PM EDT
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Wednesday, May 6, 2020

News 12 at 6 o'clock/NBC at 7

AUGUSTA, GA. (WRDW/WAGT) -- It appears our nation's East Coast might be dealing with a different version of the virus than the West Coast.

Our I-TEAM got the details from an infectious disease expert on the front lines at AU Health, Dr. Jose Vazquez.

There's no longer a question of where; it's now clear the coronavirus began in Wuhan, China, and then spread across the globe.

Things do get a little blurry, though, when you look at how it arrived on American soil. Call it a tale of 2 coastlines, and that story began out West.

"These are the people coming directly from Wuhan to Washington and California," Dr. Vazquez said.

Still though, that's thousands of miles away from Augusta and Aiken, but more significantly, Atlanta and New York.

"There's another strain or a couple of strains, that actually went from Wuhan to Europe, and then from Europe to the United States, to the East Coast," Dr. Vazquez said.

Dr. Vazquez believes the version of the virus in our area is the bad one, but the good news is, he's really not worried about the coronavirus mutating.

Dr. Vazquez says the difference is ever-so-slight, but he believes it could be partly responsible for the East Coast struggling a bit more.

"Even San Francisco, which is pretty densely populated, has not been hit as hard as, New Jersey, New York," he said.

There are other factors too, like social distancing, that came into play as well, so it can't take all the blame.

Then, there's this: "Having a different strain of corona is not the same as a different strain in influenza," Dr. Vazquez said.

That is a good thing. The flu's ability to rapidly mutate is why we can get infected over and over again.

It's also why experts have to make an educated guess each year when developing a vaccine.

"Those are completely, very different strains versus these minor subtleties or strains within coronavirus," Dr. Vazquez said.

He believes once there is a coronavirus vaccine, it will offer way more protection. "Our immunity to them (coronaviruses) last for a couple of years. So it may not be yearly," Vazquez said.

Again, since he says the changes are minimal, it would likely cover each mutation. "We do know that there are at least, at this point in time, 10 to 15 mutations on the virus," Dr. Vazquez said.

That includes the ones flanking the United States, until we can finally say our coasts are clear.

Speaking of a coronavirus vaccine, Dr. Vazquez says we'll be lucky if we get one next summer. He also said if one became available later this year, he would not trust it.

He says it's too soon.

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