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UK strain doubling every 10 days in US: study

The COVID-19 strain first discovered in the U.K. is doubling in the U.S. every 10 days, presenting a potential risk of increased cases and deaths in the country, according to a study released Sunday

A group of researchers estimated that the U.K. variant, called B.1.1.7, spreads at an increased transmission rate of 35 to 45 percent and is expected to become the predominant strain in the U.S. by March. The study, released on server medRxiv, has not yet been peer-reviewed or published in a medical journal. 

“Our study shows that the U.S. is on a similar trajectory as other countries where B.1.1.7 rapidly became the dominant SARS-CoV-2 variant, requiring immediate and decisive action to minimize COVID-19 morbidity and mortality,” the study reads. 

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Scientists determined from half a million COVID-19 tests and 212 genomes that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) prediction that the U.K. strain would become the most prevalent coronavirus variant in the U.S. by March. 

Kristian Andersen, a co-author of the study and virologist at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif., told The New York Times that “nothing in this paper is surprising, but people need to see it.”

Researchers estimate that the U.K. strain, first announced by the British government on Dec. 20, emerged in the U.S. as early as November. The first case was confirmed in the U.S. in Colorado on Dec. 29 and has since spread to at least 33 states, according to the CDC

The strain first found in the U.K. was brought to the U.S. at least eight times on separate occasions, potentially due to increased travel at Thanksgiving and Christmas between the two countries, according to the study. 

Using their genome sequencing with lab testing company Helix’s test results, the analysts determined their prediction for how fast the coronavirus variant has spread around the U.S. Helix was contracted by the CDC to inspect samples for the U.K. strain. 

The scientists anticipate that the strain makes up a higher percentage of COVID-19 cases in certain states such as Florida, where 4.5 percent of cases are estimated to come from the variant. 

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As a whole, the U.K. variant is estimated to make up 2 percent of all U.S. cases, meaning 1,000 more people may be contracting the strain every day, the Times noted. 

The CDC has reported 611 B.1.1.7 cases in the U.S., but the number is expected to be much higher due to the complicated method to confirm a case came from a U.K. strain. 

In total, the U.S. has counted almost 27 million cases and more than 463,000 deaths due to COVID-19, with January recording the most deaths and the highest average of coronavirus hospitalizations of any month of the pandemic.