Story at a glance
- At least 467 cases of the coronavirus strain first identified in the United Kingdom have been reported in the U.S. across 32 states.
- Health experts warn the British variant will soon become the dominant strain and possibly cause another spike of infections.
- At least three cases of the strain from South Africa, B.1.351, have been identified in the U.S. and one case of the P.1 strain first identified in Brazil.
The U.S. is racing to get COVID-19 vaccines in the arms of Americans as new, more contagious variants of the coronavirus threaten to prolong the pandemic.
At least 467 cases of the coronavirus strain first identified in the United Kingdom have been reported in the U.S. across 32 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These include 147 cases in Florida, 113 cases in California, 42 in New York and 22 in Michigan.
The variant, known as B.1.1.7, is believed to have first emerged in the U.K. in September and was identified in the U.S. in December. The strain is associated with increased transmissibility and scientists from the U.K. have reported evidence that suggests it may be associated with an increased risk of death, although more research is needed to confirm if that’s the case. While the strain has shown to be more infectious, there’s no evidence the variant has any impact on vaccine efficacy.
But as cases and hospitalizations are trending down across the U.S. and vaccinations are steadily increasing, health experts warn the British variant will soon become the dominant strain and possibly cause another spike of infections.
“We have a little breathing room right now, but if these new variants become dominant in our country, we are going to be right back where we were in November and December and perhaps even worse,” Megan Ranney, an emergency room doctor at Brown University, told CNN.
Ranney stressed that Americans need to double down on safety measures such as mask-wearing and social distancing as vaccinations continue.
Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota and a member of President Biden’s transition team, projected a surge of infections due to the U.K. variant could happen in the U.S. in the next six to 14 weeks.
“If we see that happen...we are going to see something like we have not seen yet in this country," Osterholm said during an interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday.
The epidemiologist said the U.S. should prioritize first doses in as many people as possible even if it means delaying second doses. Top Biden administration health officials on Monday, however, said they are not shifting the nation’s strategy, noting that clinical trials were conducted with two doses of the shot several weeks apart.
“The first priority will always be to get the people who have gotten their first doses to get their second dose,” Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious diseases expert, said Monday.
Health officials have also expressed concern over strains that emerged out of South Africa and Brazil. At least 3 cases of the strain from South Africa, B.1.351, have been identified in the U.S. and one case of the P.1 strain first identified in Brazil.
While there is insufficient evidence to suggest the South African variant causes more severe illness, there is some evidence it is more resistant to current vaccines being administered, although they still provide an adequate level of protection against the virus.
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