CDC: More contagious COVID-19 variant could be dominant US strain by March

A more contagious variant of COVID-19 that originated in the United Kingdom could be the predominant strain in the U.S. by March, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned Friday. 

The new variant could threaten already strained health care resources, require extended and more rigorous use of public health strategies and increase the percentage of the population immunity needed for herd immunity, said authors of a CDC report. 

“The increased transmissibility of the … variant warrants universal and increased compliance with mitigation strategies, including distancing and masking,” the authors wrote. 

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“Higher vaccination coverage might need to be achieved to protect the public," they continue.

The U.K. variant of COVID-19 is estimated to have emerged in the country in September, quickly becoming the dominant strain in England.

It has now been detected in 30 countries, including in the U.S., where 76 cases have been identified in 10 states, the CDC said.

According to a model developed by the CDC, “rapid growth” of the variant is expected in the U.S. in early 2021 before it becomes the dominant strain in March.

That possibility means the U.S. should take measures now to lessen the potential impact of the strain, the authors wrote, including increasing vaccinations and continuing with physical distancing, mask-wearing, isolation and quarantine of positive cases.

“These measures will be more effective if they are instituted sooner rather than later,” the authors wrote.

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The authors also recommended “strategic testing of people without symptoms who are at higher risk of infection," including people who have “frequent unavoidable” contact with the public.

There is no evidence the new variant is more deadly. But because it appears to be more contagious, it could lead to more cases, increasing the number of people who need critical care, further straining the health care system and leading to more deaths, the authors wrote. 

--Updated at 1:34 p.m.