PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Dr. John Lynch and his colleagues are studying the more contagious variants of the coronavirus and he said he’d be lying if he said they weren’t concerned.

Lynch, the Infection Prevention and Control Medical Director at Harbor View, said these variants hold the potential to provide another plot twist in the pandemic.

“So as we sort of see these changes in our society and sort of reopening at the same time, as there’s more transmissible variants around, my biggest concern is we’re going to see more cases of COVID-19,” Lynch said.

Places like Washington state, for example, kept COVID more in control. But that means they have a high nunber of people who are uninfected, unvaccinated and still prone to disease.

“Ultimately I think a big part of this is going to be vaccine access. If we can really ramp up vaccine access and implementation over the coming, you know, 5 months, 6 months, I think we’re going to see a much, much more normal appearing life come this fall.”

He stressed the vaccines work against the variants, particularly the UK variant that is most dominant in the US and in Washington state.

The South African variant is the one that appears to be the most concerning. That doesn’t mean the vaccine doesn’t work against that variant, it just doesn’t work as well. But it still offers your body’s immune system some protection and help in fighting it off.

Vaccines are fantastic tools, Lynch said, and the variants put the pressure on for everyone to get vaccinated as soon as possible. In the meantime, continue doing what we’ve been doing during this Year of the Pandemic.

Masks very important

The CDC is considering creating standards for masks in order to help keep the more contagious variants of the virus at bay. Lynch said that’s why there is a lot of discussion about double masking.

CDC — Improve How Your Mask Protects You

Doctors aren’t exactly sure why the variants are spreading more easily but believe it’s a combination of things. The variants could increase a person’s viral load and could stay in an infected person’s system a longer time. It could also bind to our cells in our respiratory tract where we get exposed more tightly, evading early immune response.

That’s why Lynch said we need to move beyond just grabbing any mask.

Wearing double masks, Mark Holton, a Lock Haven student home on break, walks his puppy Bella during a winter storm in Monroe Township, Wyoming County, Pa., Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021. (Mark Moran /The Citizens’ Voice via AP)

“We really need to be moving beyond bandanas and t-shirts as buffs, in the community. We have access to these, you know, multiple layers. And so if you use a block mask, make sure it’s a multi-layer cloth mask. If you can have access to a medical procedure mask, you know, and I see these out in the communities, these are generally built with 3 layers already.”

Yes, it’s been a year since the pandemic began. But there are pivotal months ahead.

Lynch said it’s crucial everyone wears a well-fitted multiple layered mask, which he said will be really effective in preventing these new variants from disrupting our progress.

And if you see your friends or family wearing ill-fitting, ineffective masks, kindly tell them why that’s not a good idea.

Everyone needs to understand what is effective and safe so we can all get back to normal sooner rather than later.