U.S. could duck a COVID surge from variant that despatched Britain reeling

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U.S. may duck a COVID surge from variant that sent Britain reeling

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More infectious COVID-19 variants are spreading in the US as cases decline and the national vaccination campaign gains momentum. All together, a Harvard epidemiologist said Friday, and it could all lead to a happy break for us and we could be spared a virus mutation like the one that threatened to topple the UK healthcare system.

William Hanage, Associate Professor of Epidemiology at Harvard T.H. The Chan School of Public Health said that although the highly infectious British variant known as B.1.1.7 has had devastating effects in the UK, Ireland and other countries that may not appear here, although it has been and is found in 42 states, it will believed to be 35 to 45 percent more contagious than the original viral variant.

That's because it arrived here later than other countries and is spreading at a time when US cases have been declining rapidly. Though scientists are struggling to understand the recent decline – new daily cases across the country fell from over 300,000 in early January to just 69,165 on Feb.17 – Hanage, who spoke on a conference call Friday morning with the media, said three factors may be something have to do with it. First, he said, is seasonality. Although the depths of winter remain in mid-February, ordinary cold-causing coronaviruses have been known to peak in January. Why that is remains unclear, he said, and both behavioral and weather conditions could have something to do with it. Regardless, this virus can behave like its close relatives.

Hanage warned that seasonality won't work the same way during a pandemic as it does during normal times, and broadcasts are unlikely to cease entirely. Even with colds, "summer cold" is not unknown.

Second, he said, the population is gaining immunity, albeit slowly. It is possible, he said, that places where major outbreaks occurred earlier in the pandemic have enough immune individuals to dampen the spread to uninfected people, but the magnitude of this effect would vary from place to place.

Third, he said, when the virus peaked, people may have changed their behavior. They are more diligent about masking and washing their hands and stay at home instead of going to bars and restaurants. That shift would manifest itself weeks later as the pipeline of infected people get sick enough to show symptoms and go to the hospital.

"There is every reason to look closely at the variants, but we don't necessarily believe that they will deterministically take off everywhere at the same time for the same reason the pandemic didn't take off everywhere at the same time," said Hanage. "There were these random things that happened early on."

Hanage says it's a nationwide vaccination campaign that is gaining momentum. As of Thursday, 41 million had received at least one dose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And President Joe Biden has pledged to dispense 150 million cans in his first 100 days in office.

"Taken together, this can mean that the point at which this variant, B.1.1.7, is spread locally is the part of the year when it does not transmit quite as well or a high percentage of people are vaccinated," said Hanage.

That makes up a lot of moving parts, Hanage said, but what it could mean is that the U.S. spread of the variants is less in line with the surge that has washed out across the UK and more in line with the original virus here with regional COVID-. 19 voltage peaks due to the variant, which strongly depends on the local conditions, e.g. B. adherence to public health guidelines, past pandemic experiences, and regional weather, like last summer's heatwave that drove people indoors to the south and coincided with cases that went across the sun belt.

"I don't think there will be a definitive national upturn, at least not in the next few months, but there can be locally significant events," Hanage said. "And how local they are and how far they spread depends a lot on what we do."

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This story was published with permission from the Harvard Gazette, the official Harvard University newspaper. For more university news, visit Harvard.edu.

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