A highly contagious strain of the novel coronavirus is expected to become the dominant variant in the United States by March, a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed Friday.
The variant, known as B.1.1.7, was first identified in the United Kingdom but has since spread abroad and reached at least 10 U.S. states. According to the CDC’s modeling, the strain will exhibit rapid growth in early 2021, “becoming the predominant variant in March” because of how easily transmissible it is.
With the highly contagious strain taking over in the coming months, case numbers could skyrocket even more than they already are. The B.1.1.7 strain, the CDC notes, has the power to drive “a substantial change in the transmission trajectory and a new phase of exponential growth” of COVID-19 across the U.S., which is nearing 400,000 deaths from the disease.
As is true with all strains of the coronavirus, avoiding catastrophic spread of the disease continues to require compliance with basic safety measures: mask-wearing and social distancing.
“Early efforts that can limit the spread of the B.1.1.7 variant, such as universal and increased compliance with public health mitigation strategies, will allow more time for ongoing vaccination to achieve higher population-level immunity,” the CDC notes.
In Los Angeles County, which is facing one of the country’s worst outbreaks, fears of the new strain have hospitals racing to vaccinate as many people as possible before the new variant takes hold. Government officials are mulling more business closures, including malls and gyms, to keep people apart.
Vaccinations are rolling out much slower than President Donald Trump’s administration had promised, though the U.S. is slightly ahead of many other economically developed nations in doses administered per 100 people. Much of the planning has been passed off to cash-strapped state and local health departments, leaving some states faring better at vaccinating than others.
Pfizer, the pharmaceutical company behind one of the vaccines, said last week that its studies show its vaccine is protective against the B.1.1.7 variant, as well as another strain found in South Africa.