New, more contagious COVID-19 variant has reached the US

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Jonah Dietz, Senior Reporter

Later last year the citizens of the United Kingdom were plunged into another, stricter lockdown due to a new strain of the COVID-19 virus. This variant differed from the previous one by being far more contagious. And now, only a few months later, that new strain has arrived in the USA.
The UK variant, which, according to the CDC has the designation B.1.1.7, was discovered by the country’s Public Health genomic surveillance on December 8, 2020. In a conference held to alert the world to the new threat, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson explained that the new variant had become more adept at attaching itself to its host.

“Although there’s considerable uncertainty, it may be up to 70% more transmissible than (…) the original version,” Johnson said. The verdict is still out on whether or not this strain is more lethal, but it is not likely. However, the surge of cases that a more infectious virus will cause will still prove to bring about a higher number of deaths.

Travel from the UK was immediately banned in most countries, but, as Advisory Board reports, this new strain has already been seen in California, Florida and Colorado. None of those infected had recently traveled, so community spread is the suspected culprit.

The discovery on US soil would never have come at a convenient time, but just so happens to have come at a time when coronavirus cases and resulting hospitalizations have reached incredible heights. In January, the USA reached a new record–the most new cases reported in a single day–of almost 300,000, according to the New York Times. And currently, the Atlantic’s Covid Tracking Project shows that over 80,000 people are currently hospitalized and over 450,000 have died. Amidst reports of impeachment, Capitol security and new executive action, the news of coronavirus deaths and developments have a natural tendency to be pushed aside in the collective consciousness. It becomes easy to either be overwhelmed by the tragedy, resigned to the new state of life or have one lead to the other. But resolute action is necessary from all. 

Although its effectiveness has not yet been put to the test, the coronavirus vaccine is still expected to put up a fight against this new variant. But access to the vaccine is still very limited in most of the USA. West Texas A&M University is in the organizational process of acquiring the vaccine for on-campus disbursement, but the verdict on whether or not this will come to fruition is still out. The vaccine has been administered to a large portion of the population with one or more pre-existing conditions. Patience and commitment will be necessary moving forward, as supplies of the vaccine are replenished.  

Though the spirit of the country is largely tired, resigned and on the verge of apathy, the best possible course of action for the average US citizen is to mask up effectively, wash up religiously, and maintain social distancing guidelines.

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