The highly contagious strain could drive COVID-19 cases and deaths even higher.

By Julie Mazziotta
January 19, 2021
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Testing for COVID-19
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With the faster-spreading COVID-19 strain already circulating in the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control say that it will likely become the dominant strain in the country by March, potentially driving infections and deaths even higher.

At a time when the COVID-19 pandemic is already well out of control in the U.S., the CDC warned in a new report that the fast-spreading strain will soon overtake the country, and emphasized the need to maintain safety measures and speed up the vaccine rollout.

Strain B.1.1.7 was first identified in the United Kingdom in October, and researchers there say that it is about 50 percent more transmissible than previous mutations of COVID-19. The strain does not appear to cause more severe cases and is not more deadly, but it would likely lead to an increase in infections at a time when hospitals are already overwhelmed and unable to properly care for the patients they have now.

"A higher rate of transmission will lead to more cases, increasing the number of persons overall who need clinical care, exacer­bating the burden on an already strained health care system, and resulting in more deaths," the CDC said in the report.

"MORE SPREAD > MORE CASES > MORE DEATHS," they said in an accompanying graphic.

Currently, the CDC has identified just 76 cases with the B.1.1.7 variant, though that number has grown significantly in the last two weeks — the first case in the U.S. was found just 16 days earlier, on Dec. 30. The federal health agency also believes that the actual number of cases is higher and growing.

To lessen the impact of the strain on the U.S., the CDC said that "mitigation measures and vaccination are crucial to reduce the number of new cases and deaths substantially in the coming months."

A recent study found that Pfizer's vaccine, which is currently being distributed in the U.S., appears to be effective against the strain, and the other approved vaccine, from Moderna, will likely work as well.

The CDC said that they will continue to monitor the strain's spread and urged Americans to continue with COVID-19 safety precautions.

"Collectively, enhanced genomic surveil­lance combined with increased compliance with public health mitigation strategies, including vaccination, physical distanc­ing, use of masks, hand hygiene, and isolation and quarantine, will be essential to limiting the spread of SARS-CoV-2 and protecting public health."

The information in this story is accurate as of press time. However, as the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to evolve, it's possible that some data have changed since publication. While Health is trying to keep our stories as up-to-date as possible, we also encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations for their own communities by using the CDCWHO, and their local public health department as resources.

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This story originally appeared on people.com