- The extra transmissible UK coronavirus variant is spreading quickly in the US, a new study says.
- The variant, B.1.1.7, is doubling every 10 days in the US, according to the new research.
- The researchers urged the US to monitor virus variants better to avoid “devastating consequences.”
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The more contagious coronavirus variant that originated in the United Kingdom is spreading quickly across the US, with cases doubling approximately every 10 days, according to a study published Sunday.
The study, which has not yet gone through the peer-review process, paints a dark picture of how rapidly the B.1.1.7 variant will dominate US coronavirus cases if left unchecked.
“These findings show that B.1.1.7 will likely become the dominant variant in many US states by March, 2021, leading to further surges of COVID-19 in the country, unless urgent mitigation efforts are immediately implemented,” the report’s authors wrote.
The research, funded by the US Centers for Disease Control, the National Institutes of Health, and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, supports the CDC’s prediction late last month that B.1.1.7 will become the “predominant variant in March.” The report was compiled by researchers from several institutions and the lab testing company Helix.
According to the new research, incidences of the variant are growing at roughly 7% per day nationally, slightly slower than in European countries including the United Kingdom, where the growth rate is 10.4% per day. The lower transmission rate could be explained by the limited data available or competition from other even more transmissible variants of the disease, the report said.
The new, more contagious strain and the resulting surge in cases caused UK officials to institute a lockdown, which is still ongoing. UK officials have also warned the variant may have a higher mortality rate than the original.
Although the variant only accounted for roughly 3.6% of COVID-19 cases in the US in the last week of January, it is spreading rapidly and is 35% to 45% more transmissible than other strains circulating around the country, the study’s authors wrote.
They estimated that the variant is doubling in prevalence every 12.2 days in California, every 9.1 days in Florida, and every 9.8 days nationally.
Their research indicated that B.1.1.7 was introduced into the country multiple times, with the earliest being in November 2020. They also said that periods of increased international and domestic travel surrounding Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day provided a “likely explanation” for how the variant made its way into the US and spread domestically.
The emergence of the UK variant, as well as another mutated strain from South Africa, has prompted disucssion among to US inectious disease experts about how best to get people inoculated, including prioritizing second does of vaccines.
The researchers warned there will be dire consequences if the US does not step up its efforts to sequence and track emerging variants of the disease. But the UK variant and other strains are still rare enough that there is time to mitigate their effects, they wrote.
“Unless decisive and immediate public health action is taken, the increased transmission rate of these lineages and resultant higher effective reproduction number of SARS-CoV-2 will likely have devastating consequences to COVID-19 mortality and morbidity in the US in a few months,” the researchers wrote.