The threat of new, more contagious variants of the coronavirus means the US must double down on efforts to protect people until a large number can be vaccinated, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday. 

A variant first identified in Britain known as B.1.1.7 is being found in the US as well, and modeling indicates it could worsen the already terrible spread of the virus across the country, the CDC researchers said.

“Multiple lines of evidence indicate that B.1.1.7 is more efficiently transmitted than are other SARS-CoV-2 variants,” the CDC team wrote in the agency’s weekly report, the MMWR.

“Variant B.1.1.7 has the potential to increase the U.S. pandemic trajectory in the coming months.”

That means people need to do more to make sure everyone uses masks, tries harder to maintain social distancing and takes other measures known to reduce the risk of transmission. “Higher vaccination coverage might need to be achieved to protect the public,” the researchers added. 

Plus, the CDC needs to do more to keep an eye out for new variants, and for the appearance of this one. 

“CDC has also contracted with several large commercial clinical laboratories to rapidly sequence tens of thousands of SARS-CoV-2– positive specimens each month and has funded seven academic institutions to conduct genomic surveillance in partnership with public health agencies, thereby adding substantially to the availability of timely genomic surveillance data from across the United States,” the team wrote.

“In addition to these national initiatives, many state and local public health agencies are sequencing SARS-CoV-2 to better understand local epidemiology and support public health response to the pandemic.” 

It’s not clear just how much more contagious any of the new variants are, the CDC noted. One variant first identified in South Africa and another one found in Japan among travelers from Brazil have yet to show up in US surveillance, the team said.

B.1.1.7 has been found in at least 50 countries and in a dozen US states.

 

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