Researchers studying the new UK strain of the coronavirus believe that it likely already is in the US, and has been since mid-November. It’s important to note that health officials have already determined that the new strain shows no major differences from the Covid-19 virus that we’ve been battling for the past ten months, and the vaccine will still work against this variant. The biggest issue has been that individuals who get infected with this strain are more likely to have a severe case of the virus.
“If I had to guess, I would say it’s probably hundreds of Americans by now, it’s very possible it’s arrived multiple times in multiple places.”
Michael Worobey is the head of the department of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Arizona who recently spoke with the media about this new strain’s entrance into the US. Scientists in the UK have traced the new strain’s earliest known appearance to Kent, London on September 20th of this year.
“Imagine the amount of infected travelers leaving London — that’s been increasing exponentially,” said Trevor Bedford, associate professor in the vaccine and infectious disease division of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. Both Worobey and Bedford have estimated that the virus likely made its way to the US in mid-November.
Scientists in the UK and around the world are now scouring genetic sequences of certain Covid-19 cases in the US to determine if any match up with the UK variant. So far none have been found, but that’s likely due to the fact that the US’s surveillance and tracking system is lacking when compared to other countries. Dr. Anthony Fauci recently discussed this new strain with the press in one of his daily briefings.
“You really need to assume that it’s here already, it certainly is not the dominant strain, but I would not be surprised if it is already here and we didn’t detect it.”
The UK Covid-19 strain has not been identified in the US via genetic sequencing, however, of the 17 million coronavirus cases that the nation has now dealt with, only 51,000 have been sequenced, so there’s really no telling how many of those millions of cases were the UK strain. The CDC released a statement about their tracking efforts this week in response to this strain’s momentum in the UK.
“Given the small fraction of US infections that have already been sequenced, the variant could already be in the United States without being detected.”
In order to detect new variants of the virus, scientists must look at samples from infected patients and then sequence the genetics of those samples to look at the specific letter order in the genetic code. Since mid-November, when it’s believed this new strain entered the US, the UK has performed 9,000 genetic sequences while the US has only performed 300.
Last month, however, the CDC launched a new strain surveillance program that would require states to send in at least 10 samples, two times a week, for analysis; the agency is expecting to have this program fully up and running in January.
Eric Mastrota is a Contributing Editor at The National Digest based in New York. A graduate of SUNY New Paltz, he reports on world news, culture, and lifestyle. You can reach him at email@example.com.