A mutant variant of the coronavirus has been found in both California and Colorado this week sparking fears the more contagious strain will wreak the same havoc in the United States as it has the United Kingdom.
Britain is seeing infections soar and hospitalizations climb to their highest levels on record. London and southeast England were placed under strict lockdown measures earlier this month and dozens of countries banned flights from the country. France also briefly barred trucks from Britain.
The UK on Wednesday recorded its deadliest day since April with 981 COVID fatalities and 50,000 more cases, as another 20million people were plunged into the toughest restrictions in a desperate attempt to control the spiralling second wave.
Now the US must try to curb the same mutant strain which researchers estimate is 50 per cent to 70 per cent more contagious, adding an even more increased sense of urgency to the nation’s vaccination drive against COVID-19, which has killed more than 340,000 people in the U.S.
Dr Anthony Fauci on Thursday told the Today show it is ‘inevitable’ the new COVID-19 strain will spread across the US. He said: ‘We predicted it would be, when you have so much of it in the UK, which then spread to other countries in Europe and Canada, it was inevitable that it would be here.
‘You’ll be hearing reports from other states and more cases in the state that is already reported. Unfortunately, that’s just the reality of the way these viruses spread’. But he added: ‘The good news is that it does not appear to be more virulent, namely, making people more sick and leading to more death.’
California became the second state on Wednesday to report finding the new strain of the virus after Colorado Tuesday. The first reported U.S. variant infection was identified Wednesday as a Colorado National Guardsman who had been sent to help out at a nursing home struggling with an outbreak. Health officials said a second Guard member may have it too.
For the second consecutive day, the US has set a record-high number of coronavirus deaths. On Thursday, the country reported 3,744 fatalities due to COVID-19, data from Johns Hopkins University shows.
This breaks the previous record set on Wednesday of 3,725 and brings the total number of deaths to 342,414. The figure also marks the ninth day this month that deaths have exceeded 3,000, according to DailyMail.com analysis.
The UK on Wednesday recorded its deadliest day since April with 981 COVID fatalities and 50,000 more cases, as another 20million people were plunged into the toughest restrictions in a desperate attempt to control the spiralling second wave
The US must try to curb a mutant strain which researchers estimate is up to 70 per cent more contagious, adding an even more increased sense of urgency to the nation’s vaccination drive against COVID-19, which has killed more than 340,000 Americans
California became the second state on Wednesday to report finding the new strain of the virus after Colorado Tuesday. The first reported U.S. variant infection was identified Wednesday as a Colorado National Guardsman who had been sent to help out at a nursing home struggling with an outbreak. Health officials said a second Guard member may have it too
In the UK virtually the whole of England is facing brutal lockdown until the Spring. Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are already in the midst of their own clampdowns amid fears over the more infectious ‘mutant’ strain that is running riot. The strain now accounts for around 60 percent of all cases in London.
Schools there are expected to shut until mid January. The country’s Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, said: ‘There are plenty of reasons for people to be optimistic about the spring, but we must must focus on fighting the disease for now.’
UK hospitals are running low on workers, ward space, oxygen and even pillows with patients being treated by medics inside emergency vehicles as they waited up to six hours to be admitted. In some cases people were later diverted more than 100 miles away while some packed London ICUs have started asking major hospitals in Tyneside and Yorkshire if they will take some of their Covid patients.
There is also growing speculation about even harsher crackdowns, that could include measures such as a curfew.
The American cases have triggered a host of questions about how the version circulating in England arrived in the U.S. and whether it is too late to stop it now, with top experts saying it is probably already spreading in other states.
‘The virus is becoming more fit, and we’re like a deer in the headlights,’ warned Dr. Eric Topol, head of Scripps Research Translational Institute. He noted that the U.S. does far less genetic sequencing of virus samples to discover variants than other developed nations, and thus was probably slow to detect this new mutation.
Britain is seeing infections soar and hospitalizations climb to their highest levels on record. London and southeast England were placed under strict lockdown measures earlier this month and dozens of countries banned flights from the country. France also briefly barred trucks from Britain
¿The good news is that it does not appear to be more virulent.¿
Watch @craigmelvin¿s full interview with Dr. Anthony Fauci on the dangerous new coronavirus strain now in the United States, and what it will take to fix the slow start to the vaccine push. pic.twitter.com/Z8yK7IpJCt
— TODAY (@TODAYshow) December 31, 2020
What is the ‘mutant COVID strain’ and why are experts concerned?
Coronaviruses mutate regularly, acquiring about one new mutation in their genome every two weeks.
Most mutations do not significantly change the way the virus acts.
This super strain, named B.1.1.7, was first identified in the UK in November.
It has since been found in France, Spain, Italy, Iceland, Japan, Singapore, Australia and now the United States.
The new COVID-19 variant has a mutation in the receptor binding domain (RBD) of the spike protein at position 501, where amino acid asparagine (N) has been replaced with tyrosine (Y).
It is more infectious than previous strains and potentially more harmful to children.
It is not, however, believed to be any more lethal.
Public Health England researchers compared 1,769 people infected with the new variant, with 1,769 who had one of the earlier strains of the virus.
Forty-two people in the group were admitted to hospital, of whom 16 had the new variant and 26 the wild type.
Twelve of the variant cases and 10 of the ‘older’ virus cases died within four weeks of testing.
Neither the hospitalization nor the mortality differences were statistically significant.
The discovery overseas led the CDC to issue rules on Christmas Day requiring travelers arriving from Britain to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test. But U.S. health officials said the Colorado patient’s lack of travel history suggests the new variant is already spreading in this country.
Topol said it is too late for travel bans.
‘We’re behind in finding it. Colorado is likely one of many places it’s landed here,’ he said. ‘It’s all over the place. How can you ban travel from everywhere?’
It is common for viruses to undergo minor changes as they reproduce and move through a population.
Fauci told the Today show Thursday: ‘Well, it’s here, no doubt. We predicted it would be, when you have so much of it in the UK, which then spread to other countries in Europe and Canada, it was inevitable that it would be here.
‘You’ll be hearing reports from other states and more cases in the state that is already reported. Unfortunately, that’s just the reality of the way these viruses spread. Obviously, you have to take it seriously.
‘Our British colleagues have shown, clearly, that it is much more efficient in spreading from person to person.’
This super strain, named B.1.1.7, was first identified in the UK in November.
Scientists have found no evidence that it is more lethal or causes more severe illness, and they believe the vaccines now being dispensed will be effective against it.
But a faster-spreading virus could swamp hospitals with seriously ill patients.
The California patient, who developed symptoms on December 27, is a 30-year-old San Diego County man who didn’t have any history of travel, which could indicate that someone else already had brought the new strain into the state, officials said.
Massachusetts and Delaware, are also analyzing suspicious virus samples for the variant, said Dr. Greg Armstrong, who directs genetic sequencing at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The first US case of the mutant strain was confirmed in Colorado Tuesday.
Officials there said they had identified the strain in a male member of the National Guard working in a care home, who had no recent travel history.
Southern California then recorded the state’s first case of the mutant ‘super-COVID-19’ strain, Governor Gavin Newsom said Wednesday.
Newsom made the announcement that the more infectious strain had landed in California during a virtual conversation with Dr. Fauci Wednesday afternoon.
‘Just an hour or so ago we were informed that this new variant, this new strain that we have identified obviously from the UK and some other parts of the globe, identified in Colorado yesterday has been identified here in the state of California, in southern California,’ he said.
Newsom’s announcement takes the number of US states struck by the new strain up to two in as many days as experts warn it is only a matter of time before other states also detect cases of the new variant.
One Californian is now dying every three minutes from the virus with the state smashing its record for daily COVID-19 deaths Tuesday.
The first case of the ‘super-COVID-19’ strain has been found in California, Governor Gavin Newsom said Wednesday
Newsom did not say where exactly the case was detected other than in southern California. He also gave no details on the identity of the individual or whether they have recently traveled. DailyMail.com has contacted Newsom’s office for more information.
Alarm bells were raised Tuesday when it emerged that the Colorado male in his 20s who became the first known case of the more infectious strain had no recent travel history, meaning the variant must already be circulating on US soil.
Newsom asked Fauci about the new strain and what it could mean for the state and the US.
‘I know there has been a lot of conversations about the issue of variants, about the issue of transmissibility,’ he said.
‘I am curious more broadly on the issue of diagnostics on the testing side, immunity… have we received enough information to really understand the impacts in other categories?
‘Not just on the issue of severity of the disease and the transmissibility of this disease.’
Fauci told Newsom he was ‘not surprised’ that there was a case detected in California and said he expects other states to soon report cases of the strain.
‘I am not surprised that you have a case and likely more cases in California,’ the nation’s top immunologist said.
Governor Jared Polis released this statement Tuesday announcing the first US case of the mutant strain – first detected in the UK – in Colorado
‘We likely will be seeing reports from other states – Colorado was the first place to do that and I think we will start seeing it as if you have that much of a prominence of this in the UK with all the travel not just directly to the United States but through other countries intermittently like when you go from the UK to France, France to the Unites States etc. then Canada has cases.
‘And so I don’t think the Californians should feel this is something odd. This is something that is expected.’
Fauci said there is ‘a lot we know’ already about the new strain because UK experts have been studying it but there is also a lot that will become clear as the ‘days and weeks go by’.
‘It looks pretty clear from the UK group that in fact the transmissibility of this mutant is more efficient than the transmissibility of the standard virus that we have been dealing with up to now,’ he explained.
‘Because the variants spread more rapidly, they could lead to more cases and put even more strain on our already heavily burdened health-care systems,’ said the head of the CDC’s division for emergency preparedness for emergency infections, Dr Henry Walke on a Wednesday press call.
The new strain – B.1.1.7 – was first identified in the UK in September and has since been found in France, Spain, Italy, Iceland, Japan, Singapore, Australia and now the United States.
‘At this time, there is no evidence that this variant causes more severe illness or increased risk of death,’ the CDC states on its website.
While the strain may not be more deadly, the fact it is deemed to be more contagious spells bad news for California where cases, deaths and hospitalizations are soaring to record levels.
California broke its record for COVID-19 deaths in a single day on Tuesday with 432 as overwhelmed hospitals prepare to ration care.
The Golden State is now seeing one coronavirus death every three minutes, with a total of 24,958 reported to date.
More than half of Tuesday’s statewide death toll came from Los Angeles County, where 242 fatalities were reported, according to a tally by the LA Times, bringing the total to date to 9,806.
The county, the nation’s most populous with a quarter of California’s 40 million residents, has seen hospitalizations grow by nearly 1,000 percent in the last two months to 7,181 as of Wednesday.
Colorado officials said Tuesday they had identified the strain in a male member of the National Guard working in a care home, who had no recent travel history. A second suspected case was also being investigated in the state Wednesday – also at the facility (on the map above)
Both men had worked at the Good Samaritan Society assisted living facility in Simla, Colorado (pictured)
State officials extended strict stay-at-home orders indefinitely in Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley on Tuesday as both regions reel from surges in hospitalizations and zero intensive care unit capacity.
California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr Mark Ghaly said the orders will be lifted when the regions show ‘ICU projections above or equal to 15 percent’.
But the regions have a long way to go to reach those numbers, Ghaly said, citing four-week projections which show that demand will continue to exceed available capacity for at least the next month.
Newsom has warned residents to brace for a ‘surge upon surge upon surge’ of coronavirus cases in the coming weeks as the effects of holiday travel and gatherings come to fruition.
State officials extended strict stay-at-home orders indefinitely in Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley on Tuesday as both regions reel from surges in hospitalizations and zero intensive care unit capacity
Earlier this week Newsom said the state is setting up hospital beds in arenas, schools and tents there, though it’s struggling to staff them.
He said 96 percent of hospitals in the county were unable to accept patients by ambulance at some point over the weekend, compared with 33 percent in pre-surge times.
‘Things, unfortunately, will get worse before they get better,’ the governor added.
Nationwide, more than 19.6 million cases have been recorded and 340,000 Americans have died since the pandemic began.