A new countywide order will require businesses to post signs displaying their COVID-19 mask policy.
A new countywide order will require businesses to post signs displaying their COVID-19 mask policy. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

The U.K. variant that was detected in Bexar County for the first time on Tuesday has also been found in Comal County, where New Braunfels is the county seat.

The variant strain known as B.1.1.7 is spreading rapidly throughout the U.S. and is expected to become the dominant strain stateside by the end of March.

A recent study found that the variant is doubling roughly every 10 days in this country. The variant is more contagious and slightly more deadly than the original coronavirus strain. But Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, voiced confidence that the variant would not bring despair to a nation that aims to heal its pandemic wounds.

“There are things that we can do to prevent that,” Fauci said on Wednesday during a briefing provided by the White House’s COVID-19 Response Team. “For example, the vaccines that we are [Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna] using clearly are effective against this.”

COVID-19 hospitalizations in Great Britain have been in sharp decline since early January, just weeks after the country’s early December rollout of vaccinations.

The public health advice remains the same, officially, for the variant strains as it has for the original coronavirus. But new evidence from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows those who wear snugly fitting masks or two masks at a time get less exposure to the virus particles.

I’ve been double-masking in light of the presence of new variants in the community. My technique is to layer a cloth mask with a slip-in filter over a surgical mask. I wear glasses, so the surgical mask helps keep them from fogging up anyway.

Between the three layers of the disposable surgical mask, two layers from the cloth mask, and the carbon filter insert between those two layers, I’ve got six layers and a larger-frame pair of spectacles shielding my eyes from the virus. That might be overkill, but it makes me feel extra protected.

Gov. Greg Abbott on Wednesday announced the establishment of the nation’s first three mass vaccination sites set to be run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Two of the FEMA-run sites will be in the Dallas-Forth Worth metro area, and a third will be in Houston. They are being tested as part of a federal pilot to help ramp up distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine and begin administering doses to eligible members of the public on Feb. 24.

“These mass community sites will allow us to expand access to COVID-19 vaccinations in underserved communities and help us mitigate the spread of the virus,” Abbott said.

With 660 coronavirus cases reported in Bexar County on Wednesday, the area’s seven-day rolling average has fallen to 884 after peaking at 2,261 in January. Hospitalizations continued to drop, and the percentage of COVID-19-positive patients in local hospitals is down to about 20%. Among the three deaths reported on Wednesday were two Hispanic women in their 70s and a Hispanic man in his 80s.

Here are the local coronavirus numbers as of 7 p.m. Wednesday:

  • 185,444 total cases, 660 new cases
  • 2,365 deaths, three new deaths
  • 855 in hospital, 11% beds available
  • 342 patients in intensive care
  • 198 patients on ventilators, 55% ventilators available
  • 175,715 residents vaccinated (at least one dose)

JJ Velasquez was a columnist, former editor and reporter at the San Antonio Report.