The new coronavirus variant could be dominant in US by March

The new coronavirus variant first seen in the United Kingdom is likely to become the dominant strain in the United States by March, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said in a new report Friday. The mutation is believed to be more contagious, and research shows it could experience “rapid growth” in the early part of this year.

The CDC explored a number of different scenarios involving the strain, which experts believe is about 50% more transmissible than the original. In each one, the new strain made up the majority of cases in the U.S. within the next two months.

“Multiple lines of evidence indicate that B.1.1.7 is more efficiently transmitted than are other SARS-CoV-2 variants,” the CDC said.

The variant, known as B.1.1.7, was first detected in the U.K. in mid-December and has since spread to over 30 countries. The variant has so far been detected in at least 10 states.

This week, coronavirus cases in the U.S. topped 23 million, with over 392,000 deaths since the pandemic began, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Researchers reiterated the need to stick to health guidelines such as wearing a mask, proper hygiene and social distancing, among other things, to continue limiting the spread of the virus while the nation rapidly works to vaccinate the most vulnerable. The new strain may also make achieving so-called “herd-immunity” more difficult.

The CDC warned that while no variant is proven to cause more severe cases, “a higher rate of transmission will lead to more cases, increasing the number of persons overall who need clinical care, exacerbating the burden on an already strained health care system, and resulting in more deaths.”

New research suggests that Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine can still protect against the mutation, as well as over a dozen other strains. However, the Trump administration has failed to meet targets for getting Americans vaccinated, with only around 12 million doses administered as of Saturday.