Widespread Coronavirus Variant Expected to Make Pandemic ‘Much, Much More Deadly’
A game-changing new strain has U.S. scientists really worried
The mutated strain of the coronavirus identified only recently in England is likely to have already spread throughout the United States, experts said Tuesday, even though it’s only been officially detected in isolated pockets of a handful of states so far. The strain is much more transmissible than the previous dominant strain, the latest evidence shows, and if something isn’t done quickly to rein in its spread, the pandemic could become dramatically more deadly on a daily basis.
The new strain, also called a variant, has not evolved to be inherently more deadly nor cause worse symptoms. But because it spreads more readily, it fuels an exponential spike in cases, as occurred in England, and the end result will be a burgeoning death toll in subsequent weeks.
Only stricter prevention measures across the country, or far faster deployment of vaccines (the new strain is not expected to evade vaccine effectiveness), are likely to prevent a significantly worsening catastrophe. Otherwise, expect 100,000 to 150,000 more U.S. Covid deaths by the end of February, says Ashish Jha, MD, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health.
Jha called the new strain “deeply worrisome.”
It’ll become dominant
The variant is thought to be between 40% and 70% more infectious than its coronavirus kin. Several experts have settled on 50% as a likely figure, and lingering doubts over whether it really was more infectious have largely faded. It’s expected to crowd out the previous dominant strain, through sheer speed of infecting new human hosts, and become the main one in circulation.
“The new strain is estimated to represent about 1% of all infections at this moment but because of its increased contagiousness, the best estimates are that it will become a majority of all new infections by March,” Jha says in a statement.
The expected spike in new cases could cause the death toll in a given population to spike six times higher than with the previous strain, other things being equal, says Adam Kucharski, a mathematician…