It’s contagious and spreading quickly. The coronavirus variant known as B.1.1.7 was first found in Britain. Today, it is spreading like wildfire in the United States, with cases doubling roughly every 10 days. Researchers predict that B.220.127.116.11 could become the dominant variant in the United States by March. This could potentially bring a surge of new cases and increased risk of death.
“Nothing in this paper is surprising, but people need to see it,” said Kristian Andersen, a co-author of the study and a virologist at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif. “We should probably prepare for this being the predominant lineage in most places in the United States by March.”
Dr. Andersen’s team estimated that the transmission rate of B.1.1.7 in the United States is 30 percent to 40 percent higher than that of more common variants, although those figures may rise as more data comes in, he said. The variant has already a surge in other countries, including Ireland, Portugal and Jordan.
“There could indeed be a very serious situation developing in a matter of months or weeks,” said Nicholas Davies, an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine who was not involved in the study. “These may be early signals warranting urgent investigation by public health authorities.” “If these data are representative, there may be limited time to act,” he added.
To make matters worse, Dr. Davies and his colleagues at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine posted a study online suggesting that the risk of dying of B.1.1.7 is 35 percent higher than it is for other variants. The study hasn’t been published in a scientific journal yet.
When Did It Arrive in The U.S.?
When the British government announced the discovery of B.1.1.7 on Dec. 20, Dr. Andersen and other researchers in the United States began checking for it in American coronavirus samples. The first case turned up on Dec. 29 in Colorado, and Dr. Andersen found another soon after in San Diego. In short order it was spotted in many other parts of the country.
Dr. Andersen’s team concluded that the variant most likely first arrived in the United States by late November, a month before it was detected. The variant was separately introduced into the country at least eight times, most likely as a result of people traveling to the United States from Britain between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
According to the World Health Organization, the strain has also been found in at least 80 other countries and territories around the globe.
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