Despite recent signs of progress in the fight against COVID-19, a more contagious British variant of the virus that causes the infection is set to become the dominant strain in the United States in coming weeks, potentially setting off a spike in new infections, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
As noted in a recent UPI article, CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky warned in a news briefing on March 15 that the British variant, known officially as B.1.1.7, is spreading at a much faster pace than other strains of the virus and is likely to be the dominant type in the United States by late March or early April. Walensky noted that there are already about 4,700 reported cases of the British variant in the United States, meaning that the actual number of cases is likely to be much higher.
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British COVID-19 variant spreading in the U.S.
Walensky noted that in some states, including Florida and California, the British variant already accounts for over 25% of new COVID-19 cases. In addition to being more contagious, this variant is also deadlier than the original strains of the virus, according to a recent study published in the journal BMJ. The study found that in Britain, the new variant was linked to a 65% higher risk of death within 28 days of testing positive for COVID-19.
Even as the British variant continues to spread, Walensky noted that more Americans are traveling through airports than at any time since before the COVID-19 pandemic, possibly reflecting a sense that the danger posed by the virus is fading. Relaxing precautions against the virus now, she added, could be disastrous in effect, leading to a sharp increase in hospitalizations and deaths as the new variant spreads.
As noted in a MedPage Today article on the spread of the British variant, it appears that the variant is so contagious that once it becomes dominant, most mitigation measures like wearing masks and limiting gatherings and business capacity aren’t enough to significantly slow the spread of the virus. This means that more restrictive measures, like closing businesses or stay-at-home orders, may be needed to prevent a large surge in hospitalizations and deaths. It also means that accelerating the rate of COVID-19 vaccinations, which appear to offer significant protection against the British variant, is more important than ever before.
According to the recent numbers from the CDC, roughly 83 million people in the United States have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and nearly 45 million are fully vaccinated. The first number represents 24.9% of the U.S. population, while the second represents 13.5% of the population. Among U.S. residents age 65 and older, 69.2% have received at least one vaccine dose, and 42.5% are fully vaccinated.
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