The highly contagious coronavirus variant first detected in England could become the predominant strain in the United States by March, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Friday.
What You Need To Know
- The CDC warned Friday that the highly contagious coronavirus variant first detected in the UK could become the predominant strain in the United States by March
- There were only 76 known cases of the variant in the US as of Wednesday, but CDC modeling data show the variant spreading rapidly
- That would place an even greater strain on hospitals, many already overwhelmed as case numbers continue to soar
- The agency said it’s even more important now that Americans follow public health guidelines of wearing masks, practicing social distancing and thoroughly washing hands until a greater percentage of the population can be vaccinated
As of Wednesday, 76 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant had been found in 10 states, the CDC said. But the agency said its modeling data show the variant spreading rapidly, which would place an even greater strain on hospitals, many already overwhelmed as case numbers continue to soar.
“I'm sure that it's circulating in this country, in many places for quite a while. But just people have not picked it up until now because nobody really looked for it,” Dr. Stephen Morse, Columbia Mailman School of Public Health epidemiologist, told Spectrum News.
“In Colorado, where it was first found, it was really almost an accident," Dr. Morse told Spectrum News National Health Reporter Erin Billups. "It was the fact that they did a particular PCR, and that particular test was positive on two out of the three probes they used. But there was a third one that didn't react because that particular mutant doesn't react with that particular probe. So it was a negative and they kind of scratched their heads and did more work."
After the United Kingdom first reported on concerns about the variant on Dec. 14, the country saw its number of new daily cases climb from about 20,000 to a peak of 68,000 in a little over three weeks. The variant quickly became the dominant circulating strain there.
The U.S. has been reporting well over 200,000 new daily cases since early December, and has seen several days recently when the number of deaths exceeded 4,000.
The variant discovered in the U.S. is not believed to be more likely to cause severe illness or death than the more common strain found in the U.S., but another spike in cases would inevitably lead to more hospitalizations and casualties, the CDC said.
The agency said it’s even more important now that Americans follow public health guidelines of wearing masks, practicing social distancing and thoroughly washing hands to lessen the impact of the variant until a greater percentage of the population can be vaccinated. Experts have said it would take years for the virus to mutate enough to be resistant to vaccines.
"The real problem about these more transmissible variants is if they get a chance, they can easily spread," Dr. Morse said. "If we take these precautions, we just have less margin for error. We have to make sure to be very careful to keep those masks on, not accidentally infect ourselves, keep the distance and keep good ventilation. Same precautions we've always taken. Just observe them much more scrupulously, make sure we're really taking those precautions."
Higher vaccination coverage might need to be achieved to protect the public, the CDC added.
The agency’s warning came just hours before President-elect Joe Biden was set to discuss his plan to administer COVID-19 vaccines to Americans. The Trump administration has fallen far short of the pace of the vaccinations it promised, with 12.2 million people receive the first doses as of Friday morning.
“I think the real problem has been that we haven't really had a national plan or even a coordinated plan for rolling out those vaccines and for making sure the infrastructure was there," Dr. Morse said. "So I think we're all trying to play catch up. I think the sooner we can get those vaccines into people, the better.”
The worldwide COVID-19 death tolls surpassed 2 million Friday. The United States has accounted for more than 390,000 of those, more than an other country.