Covid Strain from U.K. Now Top Variant Across Much of U.S.

The B.1.1.7 version of the coronavirus is now the predominant variant across an area containing two-thirds of the U.S. population, with one of President Joe Biden’s top Covid advisers saying it spreads more easily and likely leads to more serious Covid-19 symptoms.

Initially found in the U.K., B.1.1.7 is the predominant variant in five of 10 regions into which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention groups the U.S population. The CDC identified those regions Friday, saying they include much of the Eastern seaboard, from New York south to Florida, as well as the Midwest and most of the Sunbelt. About 220 million people, or two-thirds of the U.S. population, live in those five regions.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said on March 31 that it was now the top variant in five regions, and makes up anywhere from 4% to 35% of cases, depending on the region. At the time, she didn’t identify the regions but said the variant made up about 26% of cases nationally.

“From the reports we’re seeing, it very likely could be a bit more serious but it definitely is more transmissible,” Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Friday at a press briefing.

Several variants of the virus are spreading in the U.S., and health officials say more research is needed to know how they differ, and how much more contagious or dangerous they are as compared to the original version of the virus. Being the top variant doesn’t mean it has overtaken the original version of the virus, but its strength in spreading could lead it to do so.

B.1.1.7 now the predominant variant in regions 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6, the CDC said in a statement Friday. Those are the regions clustered around New York City, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Atlanta and Dallas, an area that includes 26 states in total.

“We’re watching this very carefully, but it is starting to become the predominant variant in many U.S. regions,” Walensky said Wednesday.

Biden has hailed the pace of vaccinations while warning that U.S. cases and hospitalizations continue to rise. The U.S. is now vaccinating 3 million people a day. About 58 million people in the U.S. have been fully vaccinated so far and almost 102 million people have had at least one vaccine dose, according to the CDC.

However, the rise in cases prompted Walensky to warn earlier this week of “impending doom” without a change in trajectory.

“We are at 64,000 new Covid cases today, and our numbers continue to increase,” she said Friday at the press briefing. “I still continue to worry that, with 80% of the population unvaccinated, that we have a lot of work to do to control this pandemic.”

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