More Contagious Covid Variant Is Now Dominant in U.S., C.D.C. Says


WASHINGTON – A highly infectious variant of the coronavirus, first identified in the UK, has become the leading source of new infections in the US, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday. The worrying development comes as officials and scientists are warning of a possible fourth surge in infections.

Federal health officials said in January that variant B.1.1.7, which began to rise in the UK in December and has since struck Europe, could become the dominant source of coronavirus infection in the United States, causing a huge increase in cases and Deaths.

At that point, new cases, hospitalizations and deaths were at all-time highs. From that peak on, all numbers went back to the end of February, according to a New York Times database. After a few weeks on a plateau, new cases and hospital stays increase again. The average number of new cases in the country hit nearly 65,000 a day on Tuesday and was mostly concentrated in metropolitan areas in Michigan as well as the New York City area. That is an increase of 19 percent compared to two weeks ago.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC director who warned last week that she was feeling “impending doom,” said Wednesday that 52 of the agency’s 64 jurisdictions – including states, some major cities and territories – are now reporting cases of these so-called “Concerning Variants”, including B.1.1.7.

However, the death toll continues to decline – possibly a sign that mass vaccinations are beginning to protect older Americans and other high-risk populations.

“These trends point to two clear truths,” said Dr. Walensky. “First of all, the virus has still held us down, infecting people and putting them at risk, and we need to remain vigilant. Second, we need to further accelerate our vaccination efforts and take individual responsibility to get vaccinated when we can. “

B.1.1.7, the first variant that is generally known, is about 60 percent more contagious and 67 percent more deadly than the original form of the coronavirus, according to recent estimates. The CDC has also tracked the spread of other variants, such as B.1.351, which was first found in South Africa and P.1, which was first identified in Brazil.

The percentage of cases caused by variants is increasing significantly. Helix, a laboratory testing company, has been tracking the relentless surge of B.1.1.7 since the start of the year. As of April 3, the variant accounted for an estimated 58.9 percent of all new tests.

According to the CDC, this variant is most common in Michigan, Florida, Colorado, California, Minnesota, and Massachusetts. Until recently, the rise in the variant was somewhat camouflaged by declining infection rates overall, prompting some political leaders to relax restrictions on indoor dining, social distancing, and other measures.

When the cases fell, troubled Americans went back to school and work against warnings from some scientists.

Federal health officials are following reports of increasing cases related to daycare and youth sports, and hospitals are seeing more younger adults – people in their thirties and forties admitted with “serious illness,” said Dr. Walensky.

Due to the increasing frequency of B.1.1.7, it is difficult for scientists to say exactly how many of the current infection patterns are present.

“It’s messed up by reopening and behavior changes,” said Dr. Adam Lauring, a virologist at the University of Michigan.

But he noted that at a time people were becoming less cautious than they were supposed to protect themselves from a contagious variant. “It’s worrying,” he said.

At the same time, the United States is currently vaccinating an average of three million people a day, and the States are in a hurry to question all adults. The CDC reported Wednesday that nearly 110 million people had received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, including about 64.4 million people who were fully vaccinated. New Mexico, South Dakota, Rhode Island, and Alaska lead the states, with about 25 percent of their total populations being fully vaccinated.

Scientists hope the vaccination will mitigate a possible fourth surge.

On Tuesday, President Biden postponed his vaccination schedule for two weeks and urged states to question every American adult by April 19. All states have already achieved or expect to achieve this goal after he originally asked them to do so by May 1st.

The variant B.1.1.7 first arrived in the USA last year. In February, a study that analyzed half a million coronavirus tests and hundreds of genomes predicted that this variant could prevail in the country in a month. At the time, the CDC was struggling to sequence the new variants, making them difficult to track.

However, those efforts have improved significantly over the past few weeks and will continue to grow, in large part due to a $ 1.75 billion funding for genome sequencing as part of the stimulus package that Mr Biden put into the Law. In contrast, the UK, which has a more centralized health system, launched a heavily promoted sequencing program last year that allowed it to track the spread of variant B.1.1.7.

“We knew this was going to happen: this variant is much more communicable, much more contagious than the parent strain, and that obviously has an impact,” said Dr. Carlos del Rio, Professor of Medicine and Infectious Disease Expert at Emory University. The B.1.1.7 strain not only spreads more efficiently, but also appears to cause more severe disease “so you get a double blow”.

Perhaps even more worrying is the emergence of the virulent P.1 variant in North America. First identified in Brazil, it has become the dominant variant in that country, helping to bring its hospitals to the breaking point. In Canada, the P.1 variant emerged as a cluster in Ontario and then closed the Whistler ski area in British Columbia. On Wednesday, the Vancouver Canucks of the National Hockey League said at least 21 players and four employees had been infected with the coronavirus.

“This is a vivid reminder of how quickly the virus can spread and the serious effects it can have on even healthy, young athletes,” the team’s doctor Jim Bovard said in a statement.



Robert Dunfee