A new coronavirus strain moving through the US hasn't caused much damage yet. But unless vaccinations start being given much more quickly and people stick to measures designed to limit the spread of the disease, the variant could bring a surge of new cases by March. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Friday that the B117 variant, which is more easily transmitted, could become the dominant strain in the US by March, STAT News reports. "We're concerned," a CDC official said. "We want to sound the alarm and urge people to continue to do the things that we know work." The strain is the one first recognized in Britain. The US health care system should prepare for more surges, the authors of the CDC article wrote.
Just 76 infections from the new strain have been reported in the US, but health officials assume the actual number of cases is higher and climbing, per the New York Times. The CDC based its predictions on modeling in a new study that assumes the new version is 50% more contagious than the current US strain. The B117 version is about 20 mutations removed from earlier versions of the virus. There's still no reason to think the new virus produces more severe illnesses, but even if mortality rates don't change, the new strain's ability to spread faster would increase the number of COVID-19 deaths. New CDC statistics show that COVID-19 has killed 1 in every 860 Americans over the past year. (The White House task force also has warned about the UK strain.)