Speed Reads

This isn't good

More transmissible coronavirus variant may be dominant strain by March — a bad sign for already overwhelmed hospitals

The fast-spreading COVID-19 variant is set to become the dominant strain circulating in the U.S. as early as March, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Friday.

While the U.S. currently has fewer than 100 known cases of the fast-spreading coronavirus variant first found in Britain, if actions aren't taken to stop the spread, it'll rapidly take over, the CDC found in a study. The CDC advised the entire health care system to ramp up vaccination efforts and prepare for an influx of hospitalizations — troubling advice given the overwhelmed state of hospitals across the country already.

"We're concerned," Jay Butler, the CDC's deputy director for infectious diseases, told Stat News. "We want to sound the alarm and urge people to continue to do the things that we know work." Modeling by the CDC suggests only rapid vaccinations and strict adherence to social distancing and mask wearing could stop the variant from taking hold. But with vaccine distribution lagging behind expectations, it's hard to imagine they'll do enough in time to prevent the new strain's spread.

So far, 76 infections of the variant, which is seemingly 50 percent more transmissible than the original strain, have been found in people across 12 states. It's very likely there are many more infections across the states. Both COVID-19 vaccines approved in the U.S. have been found to be effective against the new strain.

COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations, and deaths have continually risen to new records over the past few weeks, with the U.S. death count fast approaching 400,000. Hospitals both in rural areas and cities are close to general admittance and ICU capacities, and some have exceeded those limits.