Post #952: Month-and-a-half left to prepare for the B.1.1.7 British variant of COVID.

Posted on January 15, 2021

Above:  States where the new British B.1.1.7 COVID-19 variant has been detected as of 1/15/2021

Source:   Google search.

There is now a new, more easily spread variant of the COVID virus, first detected in the area around London.  Over the course of about three months, it has out-competed other variants to be come the dominant strain in and around London.  The higher transmission rate for this new virus resulted in rapid increase in cases and sent the Brits into another strict lockdown.  That lockdown now appears to be working, in terms of reducing new cases per day.

That COVID 19 variant is loose in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world.  Near as I can tell, there is no hard information available on how prevalent it is.  All we can do at this point is count the number of states that have announced that it is present in their populations.

The best guess is that this will follow the same course as it did in Britain, and so this will become the dominant strain of COVID-19 in the U.S. sometime this spring.  You can see news reporting to that effect in this articleOr this article.  But they’re making their guesses the same way I am — based on what occurred in Britain.

The consensus is that this new, more infectious strain will become the dominant U.S. strain by March.  So, we have maybe another month-and-a-half or so to get ready for that.

What this means is that if we merely maintain our current COVID-19 hygiene, we’ll see more daily infections.  All other things being equal.  So unless we are well onto the downslope toward herd immunity, we just have to anticipate more stringent measures against COVID-19 spread, a couple of months from now.

As an aside, the more we do other than shutting down commercial establishments, the less we will have to shut down commercial establishments to keep this new variant in check.  Which is why the whole mask-resistance movement makes no sense, unless your point is to inflict as much damage on the U.S. as possible.  I’d rather buy and wear a good mask than (e.g.) have all the movie theaters in the U.S. go bankrupt.  People who rail against masks and against commercial restrictions are simply confused.

The U.S. doesn’t do much to try to find these variants.  The US CDC sequences just 750 virus samples per week, and has now contracted with private labs to sequence another 1750 per week (per this CDC web page).  The CDC is also helping states pay for genetic sequencing of virus samples, but it’s not clear how many samples are sequenced by the states themselves.  That said, overall, the overall impression is that only the tiniest fraction of samples are tested for genetic variants, and so it’s a good guess that the new British (B.1.1.7) is more widespread than we currently know.

The only information we have about prevalence of the new strain is a count of the number of states where this had been identified, at least once, by genetic sequencing.  Which is, per the prior paragraph, almost certainly an undercount of even that crude measure of prevalence.

This new variant was first detected in Colorado in the U.S. (documented in Post #932, 12/20/2020).  Last time I looked (Post #943, 1/9/2020), it was present in eight states.

So it’s time to scan the news and update the count.  After searching Google News for about half an hour, I think I have all the states where it has positively been identified.  So, at present, we’re up to 14 states.  As shown at the top of this posting.