In his first days in office, President Joe Biden has said that the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to get worse before it gets better, as evidenced by multiple new strains popping up all across the world.
The variant B.1.1.7 emerged in the UK in September 2020 and is the most widely known of the variants. While there has been no evidence that it causes more severe illness or death rates, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), states that it spreads quicker and more easily.
The 1.351 variant was detected initially in South Africa in early October. It shares some mutations with the UK variant and while there have been cases outside of South Africa, it has yet to travel to the United States.
The third and final variant was discovered in Tokyo, Japan during a screening of travelers from Brazil. The CDC warns that the mutations in this strain might affect its ability to be recognized by antibodies. This variant has also not been detected in the U.S.
The UK variant is the most relevant for the Pacific Northwest. The CDC reported that there have been at least 195 detections of the variant across 22 states, including Washington. They also speculated that the new strain could become the dominant strain in the U.S. within a couple of months. The UW Medicine Virology Lab found the variant within two residents of Snohomish County. Additionally, the variant was detected in Pierce County on Sunday, Jan. 24 by the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department as reported by KUOW.
The BBC has reported an estimation that the B.1.1.7 variant replicates itself twice as fast as the initial strain, leading to its increased contagious qualities. Ravinda Gupta, a clinical microbiologist at the University of Cambridge believes that the working hypothesis is that the virus developed for so long within certain individuals that it was able to respond to the antibodies and mutate further.
Gupta does state that there is little reason to fear the new variant, believing that the current state of vaccinations will purge them. Still, until vaccines are widely available, the heightened infectivity of these new variants will pose further challenges in the months to come.