Back in May, 350 years ago in pandemic time, I got together with a group of science people to start a website called COVID-Explained. Our goal was to help people really understand the virus. You can see an early post on the motivation and the effort here. We were driven by the sense that, at least at that time, there was confusion about very basic questions. Like: How does the virus actually get in to my body? Why does washing hands help? Do I need to wipe down my groceries? Can I pet my neighbor’s dog? And on and on.

Over the past nine months, through very little effort on my part, an amazing team has continued to maintain the site. They’ve been updating the information on vaccines, on new treatments and on what we know about COVID and kids. We used the site as a launching pad for the school dashboard and other projects.

Our goal with COVID-Explained has always been to get this information out to as many people as possible. Which is why I am incredibly excited that we are joining forces with COVID Act Now to get our information out even more widely.

The information from COVID-Explained will now live on COVID Act Now, in their learning section. We’ve already started migrating content over. You can read about the Path of the Virus, or about Kids and COVID, about antigen testing, and all about the new variants.

We’ve updated the content, and will continue to do so. Plus, you can see all the other amazing content at COVID Act Now, including their risk map and detailed metrics for your local area.

So read up and share widely. And if you’re in the media and would like to talk more about the merger, please reach out to me!

Quick Review: New Variant

I’ve been getting a lot of questions on the new variant, especially as it relates to kids. If you’d like to read some general background on viral variants, I’d refer you to the explainer now in COVID Act Now.

But, broadly, there is increasing concern about a variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus known as B.1.1.7, which is dominant now in the UK. This variant appears to be significantly more transmissible than the variants which have been present up to now — perhaps 50% more transmissible. This increased transmissibility appears to be responsible for the UK infection spike and the new variant has been found in a number of states in the US. The CDC used a modeling study to argue last week that the new variant was likely to be dominant by March (this isn’t surprising; if a variant is more contagious we’d expect it to eventually take over).

The tiny bit of good news is that this variant does not seem to cause more serious disease and our current vaccines are effective against it. But faster transmission means more cases, and we are already reaching hospitalization limits. Broadly, this news is bad.

Many of the questions I’ve gotten about this concern children. One major concern when B.1.1.7 first emerged was the possibility that it was relatively more infectious in children. The suggestion wasn’t that it caused more serious disease, but that it infected kids as often as adults (which hasn’t been the case thus far). If true, this would change the calculus around schools and child care. Many of us have advocated for schools to be prioritized to keep open — last to close, first to open — and some of the logic there turns on children being less susceptible.

It turns out that better data has suggested this is not true. A larger contact tracing study in the UK suggested that the B.1.1.7 age pattern looks like the older variant. Kids are still less likely to be infected, and their relative infection rate is similar with the new strain and the old one. This is at least somewhat reassuring, and suggests that the ranking of schools in the hierarchy of openings shouldn’t change. Having said that, as others have noted, overall higher infection rates in everyone will make everything — including schools — more challenging. The UK did close schools, although only after they closed literally everything else except Premier League Football.

What should we do? More or less, what we have been. Take precautions. Wash hands. Wear masks. Monitor the public health situation. Test, test, test. And, perhaps most important, try to vaccinate people as quickly as possible.