The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is urging Americans to double down on precautions to stop the spread of the coronavirus, as the new B.1.1.7 “super strain” takes hold in the U.S. New CDC modeling shows the new strain could cause more than half of new infections in this country by March.
The new strain is estimated to be about 50% more contagious than the main versions of the coronavirus circulating now. It was first detected in the U.K. and has forced England, Ireland, and Wales into another round of tight lockdowns as patients overwhelm hospitals there.
So far, there are just 76 known cases in the U.S., but the strain is so contagious that these cases are expected to double each week - scientists fear it will cause devastating spikes in case counts and deaths.
The CDC’s new modeling indicates the B.1.1.7 strain could account for a majority of COVID cases in the US in March. In a “what if” scenario, the modeling shows total COVID cases surging again in late April, and reaching a peak of more than 200,000 cases a day if no one gets vaccinated.
Vaccination of at least 1 million people in the U.S. each day wouldn’t stop the spread entirely, but it should cut the number of new daily cases at the peak by half. But that pace of vaccination has not been achieved in the US. As of Jan. 14, CDC data showed the U.S. had not yet given 10 million doses, fewer than half the doses that were expected to be administered by the end of last year.
The CDC’s modeling also showed that vaccination was most effective when paired with stricter adherence to measures that stop the spread of the virus, such as hand-washing, wearing masks, and social distancing. If the public was more aggressive in following those rules as the US ramps up its vaccination campaign, it could slash the expected peak by more than two-thirds.
“We really understand that people are tired, and for some it’s getting harder and harder to social distance and wear their masks, but we have to do what we can now,” said study author Michael Johansson, PhD, a member of the CDC’s COVID-19 Response Team. “We’re far from being out of the woods.”
Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, NBC News, WebMD