880 In Depth: COVID variants stoke fears of new surge

NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — Coronavirus restrictions across the United States are being eased now that more and more Americans are being vaccinated against coronavirus, but there are still concerns about variants.

In a recent interview with CNN, Dr. Anthony Fauci said there was no reason to “despair” over coronavirus variants, like the one recently discovered in New York City by researchers.

The nation’s top infectious disease specialist says the U.S. has plenty of “tools” against the variants but, other experts say not enough is known about the variations of COVID-19 and now is not the time to be loosening restrictions.

“I think we should be cautious and not rush into easing some of the restrictions at this point in time,” says Dr. Wafaa El-Sadr, who heads the Global Health Initiative at Columbia University.

In this week’s In-Depth Podcast, she acknowledges that more and more people are getting vaccinated against COVID-19 but new variants could potentially lead to another surge.

“I think we're really facing a remarkable race between the virus and, particularly the new variants of the virus, and also with the vaccine,” she said.

Dr. El-Sadr says the United States is in a “fragile moment in time” and lawmakers would be smart to keep some coronavirus restrictions in place so that people are not potentially exposed to new strains.

Even though Dr. Fauci does not seemed to be worried about the new strain found in New York City, Dr. El-Sadr is remaining cautious.

“We still don't know much about whether it's more infectious or transmissible. We don't know if it causes more severe illness,” she explains.

Just this week, California health officials say they detected two cases of the New York COVID-19 variant. Researchers say the mutation shares similarities with the South Africa variant, but not much else is known.

Because of this, Dr. El-Sadr is hoping that states wait before opening up. She is also encouraging every American to get any vaccine they can when they are eligible.

“I would say, hold on, let's wait till we're in a better, you know, better situation and then we can ease with confidence,” she said.

Her advice comes after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced he was lifting restrictions on all businesses in the state, saying “Every business that wants to open should be open.” He also ended the statewide mask mandate that required all residents to wear masks in public spaces.

Democratic lawmakers have cautioned against lifting safety mandates, with the new director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention saying she is “really worried about reports that more states are rolling back the exact public health measures we have recommended to protect people from COVID-19.”

She said it is critical for people to continue to wear masks, maintain a distance from others and get vaccinated when it is their turn.

Listen to full podcast to hear from Lawrence Garbuz, who was among New York's first COVID patients, and Westchester County Executive George Latimer who reflects on a year of COVID. Available wherever you get your podcasts.