The New COVID Strain Is in the U.S. and It's Bad News for 2 Reasons
Officials have reported the first known stateside case of the highly contagious strain from the U.K.
Shortly after we started celebrating the COVID-19 vaccines finally being administered to healthcare professionals nationwide, the discovery of a new strain of the virus in the U.K. set off alarm bells once again. As scientists rushed to determine how the new strain differed from the first, many experts predicted that the variant was likely already in the United Sates. Now, that theory has been validated: The first known case of the new COVID strain has been confirmed in the U.S., in Colorado. But the bad news isn't just that the new variant is here; it's that the first reported case was found in someone who has no travel history and no known close contacts with COVID.
Officials in Colorado held a briefing announcing the discovery on Dec. 29, reporting that the patient was a young man in his 20s who is currently in isolation in Elbert County, nearly an hour and a half south of Denver, CNBC reports.
The fact that the patient has no direct connection to the U.K. or anyone who has visited Britain recently could signal that the highly contagious strain has already made significant inroads here in the U.S. "We are working to prevent spread and contain the virus at all levels," Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said during the announcement, noting that public health officials in the state were already at work trying to identify other potential cases by conducting contact tracing interviews, USA Today reports.
How will news of the variant's arrival in the U.S. affect the ongoing efforts to stop the pandemic? Read on to see what officials have said about the new strain thus far, and for more on what you can finally put an end to, check out The One Thing You Can Stop Doing to Avoid COVID, According to Doctors.
It's more contagious than the original strain.
At a U.K. government press conference on Dec. 19, England's Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that the new variant "may be up to 70 percent more transmissible than the old variant, the original version of the disease." Now, scientists are confident that this is true. "We now have high confidence that this variant does have a transmission advantage over other virus variants that are currently in the U.K.," Peter Horby, MBBS, an infectious disease expert at the University of Oxford and chair of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG), said on Dec. 21, according to Reuters. And if you're concerned you could be sick, check out The Earliest Signs You Have COVID, According to Johns Hopkins.
…And it's more likely to infect kids and teens.
The change in the virus has also brought a slight change in the types of people it affects—namely, children below the age of 15. "There is a hint that it has a higher propensity to infect children," Neil Ferguson, PhD, infectious disease epidemiologist at Imperial College London and member of NERVTAG, told reporters during a press conference on Dec. 21.
"We will need to gather more data to see how it behaves going forward," Ferguson explained. "But what we've seen over the course of a five- or six-week period … [is that] the variant in under-15s was statistically significantly higher than the non-variant virus." And for more updates on COVID, sign up for our daily newsletter.
Current vaccines still protect against the new strain.
While initial fears had many worried that the vaccines would no longer be able to protect them from the new variant, health experts were quick to reassure that the doses already being administered would still be effective against the new variant. Britain's Chief Scientific Adviser Patrick Vallance, MBBS, said that the vaccines have appeared to continue to generate an immune response to the new COVID strain during a press conference on Dec. 19. And on Meet the Press on Dec. 20, President-elect Joe Biden's surgeon general nominee, Vivek Murthy, MD, said that there's "no reason to believe that the vaccines that have been developed will not be effective against this virus as well."
Vin Gupta, MD, of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, agreed during an interview with CNBC's Squawkbox Asia on Dec. 21, saying "there is a strong belief here that the vaccine, as it exists today…will have effectiveness in warding off infection from this new strain in England, in addition to the old strain that we've been contending with for months now." And for more vaccine news, check out These 2 States Are Going Against the CDC's Vaccine Recommendations.
It's not any more dangerous or deadlier than the original strain.
Despite being easier to transmit, health officials do not believe that the new strain is more likely to cause severe illness or death than the original dominant strain. In a statement, England's Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty, MBBS, said: "There is no current evidence to suggest the new strain causes a higher mortality rate or that it affects vaccines and treatments, although urgent work is under way to confirm this."
As for stateside experts, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) posted an update on the new variant on Dec. 28, saying, "Initial studies suggest that the new variant may spread more easily from person to person. So far, scientists in the U.K. see no evidence that infections by this variant cause more severe disease." And for another update from one of the most trusted medical officials in the U.S., check out Dr. Fauci Just Made a Scary Admission About the COVID Surge.