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In a February interview on MSNBC’s All in With Chris Hayes, Dr. Anthony Fauci warned that a fourth wave of COVID-19 was possible if certain important things don’t happen over the next few months or more. Fauci, America’s leading infectious disease expert, said a fourth wave could happen if the nation doesn’t double down “uniformly and consistently with the public health measures at the same time as we phase in increasing numbers of people getting vaccinated.” 

By recommending continued health measures, Dr. Fauci is referring to social distancing, mask wearing and hand washing — practices that some states are beginning to loosen significantly as the spring months begin. By mid-March, Texas will join Iowa, Mississippi, Montana and North Dakota in lifting their statewide mask mandates. This goes against Dr. Fauci’s desire to keep mask-wearing a top priority while vaccinations continue across the country. 

Yet the bigger concern may be how COVID virus variants can form and run rampant if people start getting careless about infection prevention too soon. 

4. Virus Mutations: The Real Fourth Wave Threat?

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Dr. Fauci told Chris Hayes that vaccine-resistant variants are “wildcards” to watch closely. “One of the wildcards, Chris, we have to keep an eye on are the mutations, the mutants that are out there. Because if they become dominant, that then could lead to another surge,” Fauci said. 

How do we prevent coronavirus variants from causing a fourth wave? Fauci says it’s all about continuing preventative practices until immunity is widespread. “But the best way to prevent them from becoming dominant is double down on public health measures,” Fauci stated. 

If Americans stay vigilant about mask wearing and social distancing as vaccinations are administered through 2021, Dr. Fauci believes we may be able to avoid a fourth COVID wave caused by virus mutations. “If we do that, and I underlined the if, we should then continue to see the downward trend. But we`ve got to keep our eye out on the mutants because if they become dominant, they could be a problem,” Fauci told Chris Evans. 

3. How Do Virus Mutations Develop? 

Covid Effects

Studying influenza (flu) and other viruses over many years has given scientists insight into how viruses mutate and why. Sometimes surface antigens (molecules that stimulate an immune system response) are altered by antigenic shifts. These virus changes are caused by “copying errors” as viruses replicate. In other words, it’s very common for viruses to change as new ones are formed. Just like people, plants and animals adapt to changing environments, so do viruses in order to get stronger and live longer. 

However, not all virus variants or mutations are deadlier than earlier versions. Sometimes a virus will mutate in a way that makes it more vulnerable to immune system attack.

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