We already knew that the highly contagious coronavirus variant that was first detected in the United Kingdom was making its way through the United States. Now a new preprint study is making clear just how quickly it’s spreading as data shows that its prevalence among all COVID-19 cases doubles roughly every 10 days.
According to the calculations of the study, which has yet to be peer-reviewed, the U.K. variant, known as B.1.1.7, could become the dominant strain in the United States by March. That estiamte confirms an earlier forecast by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that was issued last month. “Our study shows that the U.S. is on a similar trajectory as other countries where B.1.1.7 rapidly became the dominant SARS-CoV-2 variant, requiring immediate and decisive action to minimize covid-19 morbidity and mortality,” write the authors of the new study.
The study, which was posted on the preprint server MedRxiv, concludes that this new COVID-19 variant is around 35 to 45 percent more transmissible than the other strains currently present in the United States. That is in line with previous estimates although researchers said the number could be even higher. “It is here, it’s got its hooks deep into this country, and it’s on its way to very quickly becoming the dominant lineage,” Michael Worobey, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Arizona and a co-author of the new paper, said.
The new variant is spreading particularly quickly in Florida, which has the highest number of cases involving B.1.1.7 followed by California. Kristian Andersen, an immunologist at Scripps Research Institute and a co-author of the new study, said that in just the past week the percentage of infections in Florida that involve the new variant may have increased from less than five percent to around 10 percent. Experts say this dynamic could be due to the way Florida hasn’t been strict about mask mandates and other restrictions put in place to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
The early data could amount to a warning sign for governments about the trouble ahead, particularly considering several countries have recently experienced surges in infections tied to this new variant. “There could indeed be a very serious situation developing in a matter of months or weeks,” Nicholas Davies, an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine who was not involved in the study, told the New York Times. “These may be early signals warranting urgent investigation by public health authorities.”