There’s a new strain of coronavirus known as the B.1.1.7 variant from the UK that’s now circulating in the U.S. Here is what you need to know about it.
New COVID strain
The new strain is far more contagious, spreading 70 percent faster than the original strain. This week it appeared in Colorado in a male in his twenties, a member of the Colorado National Guard with no travel history. As of Thursday, there is a potential second case, another member of the Colorado National Guard, as well as a third case in San Diego County, California. Though it is just now being detected in the U.S., the strain could have been circulating around the U.S. far before that, the CDC says.
Mutations in a virus are quite common and usually don’t cause a huge impact. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) director said, “The overwhelming majority of mutations are irrelevant…They don’t have any impact on any important function of the virus. [Only] every once in a while [do] you get a mutation that does impact a function of the virus.”
Dr. Fauci also just announced that people who have already contracted coronavirus and have antibodies are not vulnerable to this new strain.
New COVID strain symptoms
While the B.1.1.7 variant is far more contagious, it does not seem to have comparable lethal effects. So far, “there is no evidence that this variant causes more severe illness or increased risk of death,” the CDC said Tuesday. In addition, it appears to affect those younger than 60 more often than seniors.
The variant has been found in the UK, Austria, Italy, Denmark, Belgium, the Netherlands, and now the U.S. Also, a slightly different variant of the mutant strain has now been found in South Africa.
Still, the high contagiousness of the new strain means that everyone must be vigilant about wearing masks and social distancing so as not to spread the virus. As Dr. Anthony Fauci said, the new strain must be taken “very seriously.” Hospitals in many major cities are already at capacity.
Tests are being performed at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research to make sure that the major Pfizer and Moderna vaccines also protect against this new strain, but experts believe that they will. “Up to now, I don’t think there has been a single variant that would be resistant to the vaccine,” Moncef Slaoui, chief science adviser for Operation Warp Speed, said Sunday.
More than 24 countries are banning travel from the UK, including Canada, Russia, Italy, and Chile. Countries such as France, Belgium, and Ireland are closing borders with the UK. The U.S. has not banned travel but some airlines are requiring COVID-19 tests for people entering the country.
Reuters reported that the Trump administration does not plan to impose Covid-19 screenings for passengers arriving at U.S. airports from the UK.