The United States may face a rapid closing window to bring a suspected extra-contagious variant of covid-19 under control.
If the strain variant, first spotted in UK, is as contagious as some suspect, it could dominate the number of US cases by March, propel the number of covid-19 deaths to unprecedented levels and collide with vaccine rollouts, according to the research.
British scientists fear the new strain, which they say is 50% to 74% more transmissible (meaning the average case generates even more consecutive infections), has put wings on the feet of the pandemic in the UK, where covid-19 the number of cases has increased rapidly.
More than 20 other countries have now also spotted the variant, including the United States, where it was first reported December 29 in Colorado. According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as of Jan. 11, there were 72 confirmed variant cases in 10 states. California has 32 cases, Florida has 22, and Georgia, Indiana and Pennsylvania each have one.
That’s a drop in the bucket considering the United States confirms more than 200,000 cases of covid per day and the infection rate per million people has tripled since November, even without accounting for the variant.
Still, the variant is probably more prevalent than it looks. Many of the cases found so far do not have a clear link to UK travel, meaning they are already spreading, unseen, in local communities and could accelerate quickly.
“If the strain becomes common in the United States,” Tom Frieden, former CDC director said on Twitter, is “close to [a] worst case scenario. ”He says political unrest, overtaxed hospitals and a relentless new form of virus could create a“ perfect storm ”.
This appearance of the variant has already led the United States to require British visitors to test negative before flying. Some science leaders say the United States should now consider a coordinated national lockdown period. “I think we have to aggressively consider the pros and cons of another lockdown to smash the curve,” says Ali Nouri, president of the Federation of American Scientists. “We are seeing a record number of cases and deaths, and on top of that we are facing a situation where we may be faced with a highly transmissible variant. This will worsen a situation that is already pushing hospitals to breaking point in some areas. It is a very bad situation.
Easier to spread
the variant virus, known as B117, was discovered by British scientists in December and carries mutations that many researchers say allow it to spread more easily between people. There is still scientific uncertainty as to whether the variant is really more transmissible, or whether it has been primarily fueled by mass-market events, including holiday gatherings in Europe. However, if more countries, including the US, see the same pattern as the UK, the case for easier dissemination will seem compelling.