Recent modeling from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has revealed that a mutant coronavirus first identified in the United Kingdom has the potential to become the predominant variant in the United States in the month of March.
It appears that the agency’s projection is well on its way to becoming true.
The UK variant, also known as B.1.1.7, has continued its rapid spread across the United States over the past month and now accounts for an estimated 10 percent of all cases nationwide. That figure is up from an estimated 1 to 4 percent just a few weeks ago.
According to the latest data compiled by the CDC, the agency has identified twenty-four hundred cases of the B.1.1.7 variant, fifty-three cases of the B.1.351 strain from South Africa, and ten cases of the P.1 from Brazil.
“We may now be seeing the beginning effects of these variants in the most recent data,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in a recent media briefing.
First seen in southeast England, that new strain is now responsible for the majority of new infections in the United Kingdom and forced the country into national lockdown on January 4.
Previous reports have contended that the mutant virus is about 45 percent more transmissible and up to 70 percent more deadly.
Walensky added that she is “really worried” about some states rolling back public health measures intended to contain further spread as new cases appear to be leveling off at a “very high number.”
“Seventy thousand cases a day seems good compared to where we were just a few months ago,” she said. “Please hear me clearly: At this level of cases with variants spreading, we stand to completely lose the hard-earned ground we have gained.”
The United States peaked at more than three hundred thousand cases per day in early January following the winter holidays.
White House chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci agreed with the assessment that the number of daily cases still needs to go down substantially.
“We don’t want to continue to prevent people from doing what they want to do. But let’s get down to a good level,” the nation’s top infectious disease expert said over the weekend in an interview on the CBS program Face the Nation.
“Let’s get many, many more people vaccinated. And then you could pull back on those types of public health measures. But right now, as we’re going down and plateauing is not the time to declare victory because we’re not victorious yet,” he added.
Viruses like COVID-19 are known to continuously evolve, and what concerns scientists even more is that the currently circulating variants might only be the tip of the iceberg, as the United States appears to be incubating a number of its own unique coronavirus variants, recent research has suggested.
The study was able to pinpoint at least seven new “lineages” of the virus that evolved independently of one another, though they do seem to display the same genetic mutations.
Ethen Kim Lieser is a Minneapolis-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.