(ABC4 News) — A new variant of the coronavirus first discovered in the United Kingdom has now been reported in the United States.
According to health officials, the new and seemingly more contagious variant of the coronavirus was first identified in Britain and has since spread to other surrounding countries.
What do we know about the new variant?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC, says it’s common for viruses like COVID-19 to constantly change through mutation, and new variants of a virus are expected to occur over time.
“Sometimes new variants emerge and disappear. Other times, new variants emerge and start infecting people,” the CDC states.
The virus that causes COVID-19 is a type of coronavirus, a large family of viruses named after the crown-like spikes on their surfaces.
The CDC says multiple COVID-19 variants are circulating globally. In the United Kingdom, UK, a new variant has emerged with an unusually large number of mutations.
“This variant seems to spread more easily and quickly than other variants. Currently, there is no evidence that it causes more severe illness or increased risk of death,” the CDC stated.
The new variant, which was first detected in September 2020, is now highly prevalent in London and southeast England, according to the CDC.
Recently, it has been detected in Canada and the United States.
On Wednesday, December 30, Colorado health officials announced a Colorado National Guard member was the first reported U.S. case of COVID-19 variant. The individual is recovering in isolation and will remain there until cleared by public health officials. A thorough investigation is being conducted.
The CDC says in South Africa, another variant has emerged independently of the variant detected in the UK.
The variant in South Africa, which was originally detected in early October, shares some mutations with the variant detected in the UK, the CDC says. Health officials say this variant also seems to spread more easily and quickly than other discovered variants.
In Utah, health officials have been sequencing samples since the beginning of the pandemic to look for different strains of the virus.
“The new variant isn’t changing our response or plans for vaccination. We anticipate the virus to change over time, and if anything, it just shows how much we need to buckle down with the prevention recommendations we’ve been saying for months now to get our case counts under control,” Jenny Johnson, Public Information Officer for the Utah Department of Health, tells ABC4 News.
What we don’t know
The CDC says scientists are working to learn more about these newly discovered variants. Public health officials are studying these variants quickly to learn more so that they can control their spread.
The following is a list from the CDC on what is currently unknown about the new virus variant:
- How widely these new variants have spread
- How the new variants differ
- How the disease caused by these new variants differs from the disease caused by other variants that are currently circulating
Researchers are working to understand how the new variant is spread from person to person. The following are some questions currently under investigation:
- Does it cause milder or more severe disease in people?
- Can it be detected in the currently available viral test?
- Can it be treated by current medicine used to treat people for COVID-19?
- How it will affect the current COVID-19 vaccine?
CDC health officials say they are working in collaboration with other public health agencies to monitor the situation closely. They say they are working to detect and characterize emerging viral variants and expand their ability to look for COVID-19 and new variants.