A strain of coronavirus thought to be more contagious was discovered in Elbert County, Colorado, USA, not far from this testing site in Parker, Colorado, USA, which has been found in several states in the United States. Hide Michael Ciaglo / Getty Images subtitles
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Scientists are sending warnings to the United States. What’s happening right now in the UK with the new coronavirus strain could happen in the US, and the US has little time to prepare.
Ema Horde Croft, an epidemiologist at the University of Bern in Switzerland, says, “I feel dj vu’s feelings about what was going on in the spring right now.” “I see a lot of countries looking at England now and saying,’Oh, it doesn’t seem that bad what’s happening there as it did in Italy in February.
“But we’ve seen a few times in this epidemic that if the virus could happen elsewhere, it could probably happen in your country as well.”
The new variant, B.1.1.7, appears to be far more contagious than the previous version of the virus. It is spreading rapidly in the UK and the number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths is surging. Last week, the UK reported a record 419,000 cases. The governments of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland enforced strict blockades, urging people to stay home.
Studies show that the new strain increases the transmittance by about 50%. In the UK, restrictions greatly suppressed previous versions of the virus, but B.1.1.7 continued to grow exponentially.
Now scientists say the virus is already in the United States and is very low-level, but widespread, says computer biologist Trevor Bedford at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.
He told the NPR last week that “a rough estimate across the United States would be a frequency of about a thousandth.” “So about 1 in 1000 COVID infections are due to the strain.”
Bedford expects that percentage to rise rapidly. In the UK, it took about 3 months for B.1.1.7 to take over and become the dominant strain of the outbreak. Scientists believed that this variant first appeared in September. In December, it became the dominant version in London.
“Therefore, a similar schedule of roughly three months is expected from the first arrival of this strain in the US in December until it begins to dominate the virus population around March,” Bedford said.
How dangerous is the new variant?
With cases already surging in the United States, it can be very problematic for this new strain to prevail, researchers say. That could fuel another surge in addition to the already massive surge that the country is struggling to stop.
Hospitals are full, and healthcare systems are overextended nationwide with less contagious versions of the virus. What if more contagious forms start to spread?
Currently, scientists do not believe that the new strain is more lethal. However, its increased contagion can eventually become much more dangerous, resulting in even more deaths, Hodcroft says.
“Perhaps counterintuitively, the increased probability of delivery is probably the worst of these two scenarios, because if something is more deliverable, it will reach a larger population,” she says.
One study found that those infected with the previous version of the virus infect about 10% of their contacts, and those infected with the new strain infect about 15%. Thus, the new strain increases the transmittance by about 50%.
To understand its impact, remember that the virus spreads exponentially. Case numbers increase faster and faster. Accelerate.
Hodcroft says, “Then, if you pull the exponential growth up to a steeper curve, it starts to infect a lot more people very quickly than before.” “And in the end, the percentage of people who are hospitalized or die is the same, but a small percentage of a large number is a large number.”
With a small increase in contagion, the outbreak increases much faster and even more. During the surge in the fall, each infected person infected an average of about 1.3 others, Bedford says. Studies show that the new strain raises this value by about 0.5, with each patient being able to infect an average of 1.8.
2 months to prepare
According to Bedford, the United States still has about two months to prepare for and slow down this strain. On the surface, that timeline sounds like good news. But the findings are worrisome, says Bedford. They mean that we can’t blame the more contagious virus for the sharp increase in cases and hospitalizations already happening in some states.
“I think it’s completely unimaginable that more deliverable strains have contributed to the surge in the US this fall and winter,” he says. “We’re rarely starting this variant.”
But the outbreak in the United States is the worst ever. The U.S. reported on Tuesday the day of the deadliest epidemic, with 4,327 deaths from COVID-19. Every week, over 1.5 million people test positive for the virus nationwide. Several states such as California, Arizona, and Rhode Island have the highest rates of infection in the world.
The United States should think right now about how to minimize the damage caused by the new strain, Hodcroft says. “This is our early warning, because by the time something is exponentially spreading out in your country it will be much harder to control it.”
What you need to do is different for each community. Activities that previously seemed relatively safe, such as alfresco dining — may be unsafe due to the new version of the virus.
The community should start thinking about buying better masks or suggesting people how they can improve their masks.
Cities and states can enhance testing and contact tracking. They start tracking strains to slow their spread. And finally, the whole country should focus on vaccinating people as soon as possible.
Otherwise, Bedford says he will see another wave of the virus in March.
“I was expecting the situation in the United States to be properly controlled by March,” he said. Because the weather is getting hotter and more people will be immunized through vaccines or natural exposure.
“These factors will keep the old version of the virus under control,” he says, but it’s not a new variant. “Now my expectations are that we will end up with a spring wave of this new strain virus.”
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