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More contagious COVID-19 variant could become dominant U.S. strain by March, CDC says

  • JEREMY SELWYN/POOL VIA ASSOCIATED PRESS
                                A COVID-19 AstraZenaca vaccine was prepared at the NHS Nightingale facility at the Excel Centre, London, Monday. The center is one of the seven mass vaccination centers now opened to the general public as the government continues to ramp up the vaccination program against COVID-19.

    JEREMY SELWYN/POOL VIA ASSOCIATED PRESS

    A COVID-19 AstraZenaca vaccine was prepared at the NHS Nightingale facility at the Excel Centre, London, Monday. The center is one of the seven mass vaccination centers now opened to the general public as the government continues to ramp up the vaccination program against COVID-19.

NEW YORK >> Health officials say by March, a new and more infectious strain of coronavirus — first found in the United Kingdom — will likely become the dominant strain in the United States.

The U.K. variant currently is in 12 states but has been diagnosed in only 76 of the 23 million U.S. cases reported to date. However, it’s likely that version of the virus is more widespread in this country than is currently reported, according to scientists at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While it’s considered more infectious than the virus that’s been causing the bulk of U.S. cases so far, there’s no evidence that it causes more severe illness or is transmitted differently. Therefore, mask wearing, social distancing and hand washing and other prevention strategies can still work, the CDC says.

HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

GENEVA >> The U.N. health agency’s emergencies chief says the impact of new variants of the coronavirus in places like Britain, South Africa and Brazil remains to be seen, and faults human behavior for some recent rises in case counts.

“It’s just too easy to lay the blame on the variant and say, ‘It’s the virus that did it,’” Dr. Michael Ryan, the emergencies chief at the World Health Organization, said Friday. “Well unfortunately, it’s also what we didn’t do that did it.”

That’s a reference to holiday gatherings and other social contacts as well as loosening adherence by some to calls from public health officials to respect maks wearing, social distancing and hand washing.

Ryan also pointed to new recommendations from the WHO’s emergency committee advising that countries shouldn’t require proof of vaccination by incoming travelers for now.

“If you look at the recommendation made by the committee around vaccination for travelers, it says ‘at the present time,’” Ryan said, noting that vaccine supply is not complete and that the science remains unclear if the COVID-19 vaccines now being deployed act to prevent transmission from a vaccinated person to others.

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