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More contagious COVID-19 strain is spreading in Houston

The mutated strain is being found in nearly 80% of the COVID-19 cases analyzed by Baylor College of Medicine.

HOUSTON — Researchers across the globe are racing to learn whatever they can about COVID-19. At Los Alamos National Laboratory they've discovered a mutation of the virus facilitates its spread.

"This one we have in the U.S. spreads better than the original that originally emerged in China," said Joseph Petrosino. "That's a problem and it's not going to go away anytime soon."

Petrosino is Chair of Molecular Virology and Microbiology at Baylor College of Medicine. He said the mutated strain is Houston's main coronavirus strain. Baylor has found it in nearly 80% of the cases it has analyzed.

"That's the strain that's taken over the United States," Petrosino said.

Houston Public Health Authority Dr. David Persse said the research shows it's more contagious, but not more deadly. Public health officials are closely watching whether the World Health Organization will acknowledge the risk of COVID-19 airborne transmission.

"That's another game-changer ... if the virus has reached a point where it's transmissible from an airborne standpoint, then we got a whole new set of problems on our hands," Persse said.

That would make wearing masks, social distancing and washing your hands even more critical to slow the spread. And researchers warn if we don't follow those recommended guidelines that will just fuel the chance for more virus mutations.

"The more cases there are the more opportunities there are for the virus to mutate further," Petrosino said. "The secondary dangers of a pandemic are the more infections there are the more chances the virus can become more severe."

WHO said it's closely looking at all the transmission science before issuing updated guidance.

"What is a concern is the fact that the disease's numbers are increasing day by day," said WHO Emergencies Chief Dr. Michael Ryan. "And if you imagine that somewhere in April and May, we were dealing with 100,000 cases a day. Today we're dealing with 200,000 cases a day. And that is not purely as a result of testing. This virus is accelerating."

The World Health Organization plans to release an updated scientific brief on everything they know about COVID-19 and transmission in the coming days.

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