Here is an example of how life can eerily imitate art, courtesy of Michael Crichton’s novel “The Andromeda Strain” and its subsequent 1971 film adaptation.
In the book and the movie, a highly infectious extraterrestrial virus invades Earth, wiping out a small southwestern town by turning the population’s blood into green dust and mutating along the way. That’s the art.
Now to the life: New cases of more transmissible variants of COVID-19 fortunately have not been discovered in the Twin Counties, but mutations of the virus continue to spread across the state and the Capital Region.
Like the scientific team in the novel, the state’s Coronavirus Task Force and health experts are working to determine community spread of mutated strains of the coronavirus, including a variant discovered in the United Kingdom in December reported to be 70% more transmissible.
In an unsettling development, two cases of the U.K. variant were discovered in Albany County over the weekend — two teenagers from a youth congregate setting.
And like the novel’s physicians, state health officials at the Wadsworth Lab in Albany are deciding which New Yorkers receiving a COVID-19 test should be screened for other variants. The extensive genome analysis can take between 36 and 48 hours to produce results, delaying notifying residents and reducing community spread.
“Scientists tend to look at these things as sort of random, that they randomly select some of these tests,” Columbia County Health Department Director Jack Mabb said, unintentionally drawing another parallel to the novel. “It would be really interesting to find out because if you listen to Dr. Fauci, it’s a lot more widespread in the community across America, not just New York, a lot more widespread and yet we only have a very limited number of confirmed cases.”
Mabb is probably right that there are more variant cases out there than we know about. The state needs to tell the public the symptoms of the new strain so we can recognize it and laboratories determine without a shadow of a doubt the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine.
For the record, and without going into spoiler-alert detail, the Andromeda virus is vanquished. Let’s hope, here and now, that life once again imitates art.