A contagious variant of the coronavirus spreading through Britain has left that nation grappling with new lockdowns, curtailed air travel and a surge in infections. Now it has appeared in Colorado and California.
Scientists are unsure how widely the new variant has spread in the United States, but they concur the extent of its spread will colour virtually every aspect of the nation’s pandemic response: hospital treatment, community lockdowns, school closures and more.
The variant’s arrival also makes it all the more imperative that Americans receive vaccinations in great numbers, and more quickly, scientists said. A pathogen that spreads easily is more difficult to contain, and a greater percentage of the population must be inoculated to turn back the pandemic.
The new variant, called B.1.1.7, is not thought to be more deadly than previous variants, nor does it seem to cause more severe illness. Current vaccines are likely to be effective against it.
Officials with the Trump administration acknowledged Wednesday that the vaccine rollout was going too slowly. Just 2.1 million people had received their first dose as of Monday morning, far short of the 20 million goal.
Gov. Gavin Newsom of California announced Wednesday that a case of the new variant had been discovered in the state.
Officials in San Diego County identified the patient as a 30-year-man who had not travelled outside the United States, suggesting the virus was transmitted by someone else in the community — a sign that the variant is already spreading. A household contact of the man has developed symptoms, the officials said, and is being tested for the variant.
Officials in Colorado confirmed one patient and identified a second suspected case. Both men were in the National Guard assigned to a nursing home in Simla, Colorado, about 80 miles southeast of Denver. The confirmed patient also had not travelled.
Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday that they were working with state laboratories in California, Delaware and Maryland to analyze patient samples for infection with the new variant.
The number of people hospitalised for Covid-19 daily has been rising relentlessly since October, totalling nearly 1,25,000 on Wednesday. That number is expected to swell as a result of family gatherings over the holidays.