Duke experts advise vigilance, masks as coronavirus mutates

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- COVID-19 remains a threat to public health, and the people on the frontlines of prevention have advice for everyone who's worried.

ABC11 heard from experts associated with Duke on vaccines, infectious diseases and emergency preparedness on Wednesday during a virtual news briefing.

"It's no surprise the virus is mutating. All viruses mutate," said David Montefiori, who runs the Laboratory for AIDS Vaccine Research and Development in the Department of Surgery at Duke. He said new COVID-19 variants from the United Kingdom and South Africa are cause for concern.

"What's surprising to scientists is how rapidly we're seeing this virus mutate," he said. "Neither one of these variants seem to be very prevalent in the United States. That could change over time as genetic surveillance increases."

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Dr. Becky Smith, an infectious disease specialist at Duke University Hospital, recommended masking and vigilance, especially for people who travel by air.

"I would really question do I need to go where I'm going? And what am I going to do when I'm there? There's really no safe travel at this time that's 100 percent risk-free," she said. "There's no downside to double-masking on your own in public at this point. Should we just mandate two masks? I feel like some areas are just getting around to one mask. I've always said that the mask someone wears that's well fitting is a great mask. So focusing on getting the one mask to be correct is a great first step."

Smith urged everyone who qualifies for a vaccine to make an appointment.

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"Get whichever one is offered to you," she said. "If you do have fear or concern, talk to your doctor or someone who's had it. It's better to have some discomfort from the vaccine than having a serious disease."

Montefiori cautioned people to not let their guards down.

"We have to remain vigilant until we turn the tide in this pandemic," Montefiori said.
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