Here's what we know about the new coronavirus variant found in US

The United States' first known case of the new coronavirus variant was...

Posted: Dec 30, 2020 9:09 AM
Updated: Dec 30, 2020 5:30 PM

The United States' first known case of the new coronavirus variant was discovered in Colorado on Tuesday, according to state health officials.

The variant, called B.1.1.7, has been linked to the United Kingdom. The man who was infected is in his 20s, is isolating and appears to have no travel history, according to Gov. Jared Polis.

That man had been working at an assisted living facility in Elbert County. Health officials suspect, but have yet to confirm, that another man who worked there also came down with the variant, the county's public health director said Wednesday.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Wednesday that the new variant has been found in the southern part of his state.

Here's what we know about the variant:

The new variant came from the UK

The new variant is believed to have originated in southeast England, according to the World Health Organization.

Public Health England says backward tracing, using genetic evidence, suggests the variant emerged in September. It then circulated in very low levels until mid-November.

But scientists did not know whether the mutation originated in southeast England or was introduced there from elsewhere, said Sharon Peacock, professor of public health and microbiology at the University of Cambridge.

Some experts have suggested the new variant could have been amplified because of a superspreader event, meaning the current spike in cases could also have been caused by human behavior.

The new variant spreads more quickly

Health authorities from around the world have said the variant does not appear to be more deadly than previously identified coronavirus strains.

Initial analysis showed that while the variant appears to be more transmissible, there is no evidence it is linked to a higher risk of hospital admission or death, according to Public Health England.

Scientists advising the UK government have estimated the variant could be up to 70% more effective at spreading than others. Peter Horby, chair of the UK's New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG), said last week that scientists were 'confident' the new variant is 'spreading faster than other virus variants.'

Speaking at an emergency meeting of the UK Parliament Science and Technology Committee, Horby explained that the new variant has 'some kind of biological advantage to make it spread faster.'

Scientists still don't have a complete picture as to why, he said, but they are investigating several scenarios.

There is preliminary evidence to suggest the new strain results in a person holding a higher viral load, which means the virus is easier to pass on, Horby said.

Scientist Neil Ferguson, a member of NERVTAG, said the variant may be more infectious for children.

'There is a hint is that (the variant) ... has a higher propensity to infect children,' he said at a news briefing last week organized by the Science Media Centre, though he cautioned that more data was needed. Severe illness due to Covid-19 is still relatively rare for children.

The new variant raises questions about vaccines

There are no signs yet that the current vaccine front-runners won't work against this new variant, experts and drugmakers have said.

The companies behind the first two vaccines to gain authorization in the United States -- Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna -- are testing their shots to double-check that they're effective against the variant.

The coronavirus has mutated before, and both firms say their vaccines worked against other variations of the virus.

Some US-based scientists have said it's possible the new variant might, to a small extent, undermine the vaccines.

'You could imagine some modest hit to vaccine efficacy, which wouldn't be good, but I don't think it will break the vaccine,' said Trevor Bedford, an associate professor in the vaccine and infectious disease division of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

Adm. Brett Giroir, US Health and Human Services assistant secretary, told 'Fox News Sunday' officials neither have evidence nor do they believe the vaccine would not be effective against the new variant.

'We do believe the vaccine will be effective against this variant,' he said.

New variant likely in US for some time

The United States will likely see 'homegrown variants' of the coronavirus, similar to the one found in Colorado, said Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine.

'That variant from the UK was noted in the UK back in September, and it's probably been in the US since September,' Hotez told CNN's Jim Acosta on Tuesday. 'We're going to see homegrown variants that are similar in character in terms of transmissibility, I can almost promise you that.'

Dr. Atul Gawande, a member of the Biden-Harris transition Covid advisory board and a surgeon at Brigham and Women's Hospital, said the variant is almost certainly in several states.

He said the fact that the Colorado man who has the variant didn't travel is a clue.

'An unknown travel history means that this person picked it up the community,' Gawande said. 'Exactly how prevalent it is, is the real question. If it's been spreading, how dominant is it?'

Researchers have scoured genetic sequences of coronavirus in the United States to see if any match up with the UK variant. So far, they haven't found any, but they say that's likely because the US surveillance system isn't catching them.

Fewer than half of 1% of all US coronavirus cases have been sequenced, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said.

At least two dozen countries affected

The variant has already spread globally. As of December 29, at least 26 countries and Hong Kong have reported cases of the new variant.

Aside from the United States, it has also been detected in Denmark, Belgium, the Netherlands and Australia, according to WHO.

Canada has also detected the new variant in Ontario, the province announced Sunday. There are three cases in Ontario, with the latest one in Ottawa.

A similar but separate variant has been identified in South Africa, where scientists say it is spreading quickly along coastal areas of the country.

British health authorities said two cases of the South African variant have been detected in the United Kingdom. The coronavirus variants discovered in the UK and South Africa are both 'more transmissible,' said Susan Hopkins, managing director of Public Health England.

Large swathes of England, including London and the southeast, are now under strict Tier 4 Covid-19 restrictions, and UK government health experts have suggested additional restrictions could be required to beat back this variant.

Dozens of countries across Europe, the Middle East and the Americas have also announced travel bans for the United Kingdom, or new testing and quarantine requirements for UK arrivals.

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Illinois Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 7 p.m. CT)

Cases: 1186613

Reported Deaths: 22735
CountyCasesDeaths
Cook4743979359
DuPage767651196
Will65037893
Lake59517921
Kane50746717
Winnebago28340439
Madison27987455
St. Clair25440466
McHenry24315265
Champaign18105126
Peoria16897262
Sangamon16128217
McLean14601157
Tazewell13521240
Rock Island13065286
Kankakee12496189
Kendall1105986
LaSalle10798219
Macon9457185
Vermilion8564116
DeKalb8265112
Adams8003114
Williamson6796121
Whiteside5926147
Boone592371
Clinton557189
Coles519691
Grundy512063
Ogle502073
Knox5017132
Jackson461060
Effingham449269
Macoupin435079
Henry432956
Marion4262111
Livingston419877
Franklin414566
Stephenson409675
Monroe406583
Jefferson3976115
Randolph396378
Woodford367560
Morgan358776
Montgomery349568
Lee335243
Logan331053
Bureau330773
Christian330568
Fayette306452
Perry305457
Fulton285244
Iroquois277160
Jersey249646
Douglas244432
McDonough232740
Saline229747
Lawrence229624
Union218536
Shelby213934
Crawford200723
Bond190924
Cass188822
Pike169150
Clark168630
Wayne167448
Hancock167129
Warren166444
Richland163538
White160825
Jo Daviess160522
Ford158445
Washington158323
Carroll157634
Edgar154237
Moultrie149124
Clay142841
Greene137932
Johnson134712
Piatt132714
Wabash130012
Mason128641
Mercer128033
De Witt127922
Massac127133
Cumberland119218
Jasper110917
Menard10368
Marshall83815
Hamilton78815
Schuyler6775
Pulaski6706
Brown6636
Stark54122
Edwards52310
Henderson49814
Calhoun4782
Scott4491
Alexander4488
Gallatin4374
Putnam4153
Hardin34412
Pope2823
Out of IL00
Unassigned02219

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 8 p.m. ET)

Cases: 661673

Reported Deaths: 12573
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion906391639
Lake48389876
Allen35806635
Hamilton32056396
St. Joseph29947512
Elkhart25376414
Vanderburgh21245378
Tippecanoe20000201
Johnson16336359
Porter15957270
Hendricks15813300
Clark11946181
Madison11741316
Vigo11595229
Monroe10328161
Delaware9836179
LaPorte9761196
Howard9055197
Kosciusko8561109
Bartholomew7448147
Warrick7412150
Hancock7404131
Floyd7200169
Wayne6631191
Grant6424157
Morgan6084125
Boone608288
Dubois5903111
Dearborn547067
Cass544399
Marshall5423104
Henry542093
Noble509078
Jackson464566
Shelby460290
Lawrence4180112
Gibson401281
Harrison399663
Clinton395453
Montgomery386783
DeKalb385178
Knox357285
Miami357263
Whitley349136
Huntington343976
Steuben338155
Wabash331176
Putnam329759
Ripley327061
Adams323149
Jasper315943
White297352
Jefferson294873
Daviess285396
Fayette271556
Decatur270888
Greene261280
Posey260831
Wells258274
Scott250350
Clay241044
LaGrange240870
Randolph225576
Spencer217130
Jennings215044
Washington211027
Sullivan203239
Fountain201442
Starke188051
Owen182153
Fulton178237
Jay177728
Carroll176518
Perry173235
Orange171250
Rush164722
Vermillion160442
Franklin159435
Tipton146341
Parke139216
Pike127632
Blackford120627
Pulaski106444
Newton96531
Brown94939
Benton91913
Crawford90613
Martin80114
Warren75814
Switzerland7537
Union67110
Ohio53311
Unassigned0431