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More contagious coronavirus variant may be in the US, but it’s not more deadly

People wearing face masks to help curb the spread of the coronavirus in Tokyo, Dec. 27, 2020. Japan is barring entry of all foreign nationals as a precaution against a new and more contagious coronavirus variant that is spreading across Britain. The Foreign Ministry says the entry ban will start Monday and last through Jan. 31. Yuka Ando/Kyodo News via AP

The new, more contagious coronavirus variant that prompted a renewed lockdown in the United Kingdom may officially be in the United States — but it’s not necessarily more lethal. 

Origins of the coronavirus variant

The variant began spreading in September throughout London and southern England. Now more than 40 countries have banned travelers from the United Kingdom.

Sharon Peacock, professor of public health and microbiology at the University of Cambridge, said it is unknown whether the mutation originated in the UK or somewhere else.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said that the new coronavirus variant — B.1.1.7 — is 70% more transmissible than existing strains.

But health authorities have said the variant does not appear to be more deadly than previously identified coronavirus strains

“I think the key point is that there is no evidence now …  creates more problems, more morbidity and mortality than the previous virus,” Moncef Slaoui, the scientific lead for Operation Warp Speed, said during a Dec. 21 press conference.

Coronavirus variant in US; no known travel ties

Now the variant has made it ashore in the United States: first in Colorado on Tuesday and a day later in Southern California.

According to Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, that state’s two infected residents remain in isolation in Elbert County. Neither had traveled outside of the country.

Dr. Atul Gawande, a member of the Biden-Harris transition COVID-19 advisory board and a surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, said the variant is almost certainly in several states.

“An unknown travel history means that this person picked it up in the community,” Gawande told CNN. “Exactly how prevalent it is, is the real question. If it’s been spreading, how dominant is it?”

Vaccine will be effective against variant

Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, the two pharma companies which launched the first coronavirus vaccines, said their vaccines have worked against other variations of the virus.

The White House coronavirus task force also shares confidence in the vaccines’ ability to defeat the variant.

“We have no evidence that suggests, nor do we believe, that … the vaccine would not be effective,” Assistant Secretary for Health Adm. Brett Giroir told Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday.” “In other words, we do believe the vaccine will be effective against this variant.”

Variants in other countries

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

Also in South Africa, a new COVID-19 strain — 501.V2 — has become the dominant version among new cases of the virus and it is spreading rapidly along coastal areas.

France detected the South Africa variant in a man who returned from South Africa to his home in the Haut-Rhin region along the border with Switzerland, the health ministry confirmed on Thursday.

Researchers said the main reason for a surge in coronavirus cases in South Africa is citizens traveling across the country in recent weeks to see family, while tens of thousands have packed into restaurants, bars and beaches during a festive season. 

How To Prevent the Spread of COVID-19 Coronavirus

COVID-19 coronavirus spreads person to person, similar to the common cold and the flu. So, to prevent it from spreading:

  • Wash hands frequently and thoroughly, with soap and water, for at least 20 seconds.
  • Don’t touch your face.
  • Wear a mask to protect yourself and others per CDC recommendations.
  • Keep children and those with compromised immune systems away from someone who is coughing or sneezing (in this instance, at least six feet).
  • If there is an outbreak near you, practice social distancing (stay at home, instead of going to the movies, sports events, or other activities).
  • Obtain a flu shot.

Local resources

KSL Coronavirus Q&A 

Utah’s Coronavirus Information 

Utah State Board of Education

Utah Hospital Association

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Utah Coronavirus Information Line – 1-800-456-7707

National Resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Commonly asked questions, World Health Organization

Cases in the United States

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