It's difficult to tell exactly how many cases of the so-called U.K. variant of the novel coronavirus, or B.1.1.7, are in the United States because the country hasn't conducted enough genomic sequencing yet to get a real read. But data analysis from Helix, a lab testing company, estimates B.1.1.7 accounted for more than 20 percent of new cases in the U.S. this week, The New York Times reports. That's concerning because the variant is highly transmissible, but scientists are fairly encouraged by what they're seeing so far.
Take Florida, for instance. The Sunshine State is believed to have the highest share of B.1.1.7 COVID-19 cases at an estimated 30 percent. Yet, Florida has not experienced a resurgence in overall infections. "I am encouraged by the declining case counts in the most heavily affected states," Caitlin Rivers, an epidemiologist from Johns Hopkins University, told the Times. "I've been watching Florida closely, which has the highest share of B.1.1.7. Case counts have plateaued there in recent days, but are not resurging. The longer we can hold the line, the more time we have to roll out vaccines, which will protect individuals, particularly those at highest risk of severe illness, and slow transmission overall."
That doesn't mean the U.S. is in the clear. There's concern that some states are easing their coronavirus restrictions too quickly, and the U.K. variant isn't the only variant in the U.S. (though it's by far the most common), but there is hope that a combination of increased vaccinations, higher levels of natural immunity, and other mitigation efforts will help the country avoid a sharp spike like the U.K. saw at the end of 2020. Read more at The New York Times.