Five States Report New Cases of U.K. Strain


Lilian Chong, Staff Writer

Shortly after pharmaceutical companies raced against the clock to immunize the masses with bulks of vaccines, a new strain identified in the U.K. has emerged and spread rapidly throughout the world. The new B117 variant, now reported in five states—California, Colorado, Florida, New York, and Georgia—has heightened fear for the public, as this mutated virus could pose a threat to the nation. 

On Dec. 19, 2020, after the mutated virus continued to spread rapidly throughout the U.K., the country enforced stricter lockdowns and regulations, including halting travel to and out of various European countries. The B117 variant has accumulated 17 new mutations, making it likely that this virus could be more transmissible than the original. 

“Any mutation out there is a concern for us. This is a stubborn and opportunistic virus,” Ali Mokdad, a population health expert at the University of Washington, said to Scientific American.

Even with efforts to implement travel bans, the variant sought ways to enter the U.S. As American political figures adapt to the news of the virus’s new mutation, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, in particular, shifted on different approaches to contain the new virus. He initially ordered the suspension of travel, then moved to mandating testing on travelers. 

However, scientists, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, said that flight bans would be ineffective in preventing the virus from entering the country. 

“I would not be surprised at all if all of it was here,” Fauci told Good Morning America on Dec. 22, 2020.

Fauci’s predictions were accurate as researchers discovered the first U.K. variant in the U.S. in Colorado on Dec. 28, 2020. The COVID-19 patient was said to have no travel history, suggesting that the spread could be person to person in the community. Nevertheless, it is unclear how widespread the virus has become, experts say.

California later confirmed its second case of the mutated virus on Dec. 30, 2020, when a 30-year-old man from San Diego County tested positive with no travel history. 

Less than a week later, the county reported 32 cases of the new strain have been detected,” reported USA Today.

Yet again, New York state, the hot spot of the coronavirus back in spring 2020, recently identified its state’s first case of the B117 strain. From upstate New York, a man in his 60s tested positive for the new variant. The state has done about 5,000 tests searching for signs of the strain.

Based on an analysis of Britain’s affected population, scientists say that the new variant is 40-70% more contagious. The B117 strain hasn’t appeared to cause more severe diseases but has been likely to increase the chances of spread. 

“SARS-CoV-2 acquires about one new mutation in its genome every two weeks,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The various mutations that occur affect the virus’s spike protein, enabling it “to bind to the receptors on cells better, and therefore is transmitted better,” said Fauci. 

In the five states reported with the new virus strain, all of the positive patients have had no recent travel history. Public health experts predict the number of B117 cases to surge. The U.S. and U.K. have not been the only countries affected by the new variant. The strain is currently prevalent in 31 other countries (not including the U.S. and U.K.).

Before the U.K. announced its new mutated variant, a similar strain dubbed B1351 was reported in Nigeria in October 2020. The variant is not related to B117, but it appears to have similar effects of spreading easily. There’s no evidence that this third strain has a better potential of transmission than B117.

On the bright side, evidence has shown that the new vaccines are still pretty effective against the various virus strains. Moreover, the recent surge in cases could be linked to the B117 variant spreading virally in communities and across the nation. 

“It’s a wake-up call for all of us to find out as early as possible in order to make sure we know what’s circulating—especially how it will impact the vaccine,” Mokdad said. “It’s a race against time.”


Photo courtesy of NCBDFW.COM