Story at a glance
- CDC researchers project new COVID-19 cases to rise in May due to the U.K. strain circulating.
- This comes as new infections emerge despite widespread vaccinations.
- Officials advise public health restrictions to stay in place.
As nearly one-third of all U.S. adults have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, cases have been broadly declining, along with hospitalizations and deaths — two major indicators for how the country is fairing against the pandemic.
A new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that increasing new infections over the course of January to March across the U.S. could be linked to the spread of new, potentially more contagious variants of COVID-19, and that the current relaxation of restrictions could lead to future outbreaks.
The variant highlighted in the report is B.1.1.7, or the U.K. variant. This mutation was identified in late 2020 and had been discovered in the U.S. by March 2021.
To estimate how the spread of the U.K. variant could affect public health, CDC researchers used a statistical modeling scenario to estimate how various vaccine rates combined with public health mitigation measures could affect the spread of COVID-19 variants.
Scenarios featured in the model were combinations of varying vaccination rates with levels of public health restrictions.
Results indicated that with a virus variant that is at least 50 percent more transmissible than the original COVID-19 strain, cases were projected to increase through May 2021 nationwide due to an increased prevalence of the U.K. variant combined with less restrictive public health mandates.
A best-case scenario occurred with cases declining in July 2021 amid a high vaccination rate.
“High vaccination coverage and compliance with [nonpharmaceutical interventions] are essential to control COVID-19 and prevent surges in hospitalizations and deaths in the coming months,” the report discussion reads.
The authors also call for moderate public health mitigation efforts as a means to reduce new cases and deaths in scenarios with both high and low vaccination rates.
“When low vaccination coverage was combined with low NPI adherence, cumulative cases, hospitalizations, and deaths were substantially higher compared with other scenarios,” they explain.
If adherence to long-standing public health measures — wearing masks in public and crowded spaces, maintaining a 6-foot distance — declines, cases, along with deaths and hospitalizations, stand to increase as new variants continue to circulate.
This comes as President Biden sets a new target for his administration to have 70 percent of adult Americans fully vaccinated by July 4 as vaccine rates slow nationwide.
Speaking to CNBC, Peter Hotez, the co-director of the Center for Vaccine Development at Texas Children’s Hospital, said that the U.S. needs to have 75 to 80 percent of all Americans vaccinated to see pre-pandemic normalcy.
“We can vaccinate our way out of this epidemic if all the adults and adolescents get vaccinated by summer,” he said.