The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) warned on Friday that, by March 2021, the newer, more contagious “UK strain” of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 will be the dominant strain found in the United States.
“A more highly transmissible variant of SARS-CoV-2, B.1.1.7, has been detected in 10 U.S. states,” the report published Friday notes about the variant first reported in the United Kingdom in December 2020. Previously, the agency notes that more virus “variants that spread more efficiently” were reported in several countries in late fall 2020. “Modeling data indicate that B.1.1.7 has the potential to increase the U.S. pandemic trajectory in the coming months.”
While there’s currently “no known difference in clinical outcomes” between people who get sick with different variants of the virus (e.g. people getting sick by the more transmissible variant aren’t reported to be any sicker than any other patients), the major threat with the virus spreading more efficiently and effecting more people is the strain it’ll put on our healthcare infrastructure. With hospitals in various states around the country already overwhelmed, a further uptick in cases can only exacerbate existing issues on that front. The report notes that’s why it’s all the more important that communities continue following the best-practices and guidelines to lower the risk of spreading and offer more time for vaccines to be administered.
“Collectively, enhanced genomic surveillance combined with continued compliance with effective public health measures, including vaccination, physical distancing, use of masks, hand hygiene, and isolation and quarantine, will be essential to limiting the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Strategic testing of persons without symptoms but at higher risk of infection, such as those exposed to SARS-CoV-2 or who have frequent unavoidable contact with the public, provides another opportunity to limit ongoing spread,” per the CDC. “…These measures will be more effective if they are instituted sooner rather than later to slow the initial spread of the B.1.1.7 variant. Efforts to prepare the health care system for further surges in cases are warranted. Increased transmissibility also means that higher than anticipated vaccination coverage must be attained to achieve the same level of disease control to protect the public compared with less transmissible variants.”
What do we know about coronavirus variants?
A frustrating part about the novel coronavirus throughout the pandemic has been the rapidly emerging new information coming out about it. After all, a new virus just means our experts have had less time to fully understand how it moves, evolves and affects a human body.
The CDC notes that “Viruses constantly change through mutation, and new variants of a virus are expected to occur over time. Sometimes new variants emerge and disappear. Other times, new variants emerge and persist. Multiple variants of the virus that causes COVID-19 have been documented in the United States and globally during this pandemic.”
They note that the virus causing COVID-19 is from a “large family of viruses” named after the crown-shaped spikes on their surface. “Scientists monitor changes in the virus, including changes to the spikes on the surface of the virus,” the agency notes. “These studies, including genetic analyses of the virus, are helping us understand how changes to the virus might affect how it spreads and what happens to people who are infected with it.”
There is still a lot we don’t know about how the variants might affect current treatments for COVID-19 and the vaccine, although many experts do believe that the vaccines will remain effective.
“The variants do have changes in the spike protein, but not enough to make the vaccine not protective,” Arnold Monto, acting chair of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Vaccine and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee said on January 11 to JAMA. “It looks like [current vaccines] should work, and we’ll know more definitively in the next couple of weeks.”
Dr. @arnold_monto of @umichsph chaired the FDA’s VRBPAC meetings in December leading to EUA of the 2 #COVID19 vaccines. He joins JAMA’s Q&A series to discuss experiences-to-date and what’s next. https://t.co/ZCy6HnbYXk— JAMA (@JAMA_current) January 11, 2021
So far, there are a number of variants that have been reported globally that generally are found to spread quickly (and more efficiently) than the original virus, though again there’s no evidence that they lead to a more severe illness or a higher risk of death on their own, per the CDC:
B.1.1.7, which has emerged with an unusually large number of mutations in the UK. “This variant spreads more easily and quickly than other variants…This variant was first detected in September 2020 and is now highly prevalent in London and southeast England. It has since been detected in numerous countries around the world, including the United States and Canada.” While the CDC reports that there isn’t enough evidence to determine if this variant is more deadly, some reports from The UK’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG) found early numbers that may indicate patients with this variant having a 30 to 40 percent greater risk of death.
1.351 has emerged independently of the variant detected in the UK in South Africa. “This variant, originally detected in early October, shares some mutations with the variant detected in the UK. There have been cases caused by this variant outside of South Africa, but it has not been detected in the US.”
P.1 was found in Brazil via “four travelers from Brazil, who were tested during routine screening at Haneda airport outside Tokyo, Japan. This variant contains a set of additional mutations that may affect its ability to be recognized by antibodies. This variant has not been detected in the US.”
So while vaccine efforts continue throughout the U.S., it’s a good time to remind everyone that the pandemic is far from over and the decisions we make in the coming months can absolutely protect ourselves, our families and save lives.
This kids face mask gallery is a good place to start shopping!