UK coronavirus variant is now dominant in the U.S.

This was predicted by the CDC back in January. The UK variant of the coronavirus is estimated to be about 50% more transmissible than the original Chinese and European strains that spread around the world last year. Now the variant has become the dominant strain in the U.S. population.

The coronavirus variant known as B.1.1.7, first identified in the United Kingdom last year, is now the most common lineage circulating in the United States, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky said Wednesday…

In addition to being more transmissible, the variant first identified in Britain causes more-serious illness.

Walensky said Wednesday that hospitals are admitting more people in their 30s and 40s with severe disease while the number of older patients, who are more likely to be vaccinated, is dropping.

The spread of the more transmissible UK variant may explain why five states currently account for more than 40% of new cases in the country:

Just five states have accounted for about 43% of new coronavirus cases over the last week, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

New York, Michigan, Florida, Pennsylvania and New Jersey had more than 196,400 of the country’s 453,360 cases reported in the last week, according to data available Wednesday morning.

Of those five states, New York and Michigan alone account for 22% of the U.S. total number of new cases last week. The NY Times reported that 8 of the top ten cities with the worst current outbreaks (most new cases per population) were in Michigan. And among the top 10 cities with the fastest rising number of cases, 9 were in Michigan. In short, things are bad and are probably going to get worse.

The number of new cases is up 19% nationwide over the past two weeks, but the number of deaths is down 21% over this same time period. Deaths always lag new cases by several weeks, so we could see the trends change later this month. But it’s also possible that the focus on vaccinating the elderly first is starting to pay off. While the more transmissible variants may be infecting more and younger people, the death toll may not climb as high because the population being infected is healthier overall. At least that’s the hope.

The good news is that we’re current vaccinating an average of right around 3 million people per day. We had two days last week where the total number reported was over 4 million. So at the current pace we should be nearing herd immunity sometime in June. Here’s the NY Times current chart:

I can’t tell from this chart or the description but I don’t think this includes the approximately 10% of Americans who have already caught the virus. Most of those people survived and most have some immunity to catching it again. If you include those folks as resistant enough to help us achieve herd immunity, then maybe we reach that 70% figure (the low end of herd immunity) a week or so earlier at our current pace. And that’s assuming the pace doesn’t increase, which it should continue to do.

I think there’s a lot of hesitation to give people good news because epidemiologists are worried about the spread of the variants, but it really does seem possible we could be looking at a much better picture in six weeks so long as we keep vaccinating people as quickly as possible. Maybe that’s too optimistic but good news is still possible and it looks like it could be just around the corner.