The U.K. variant of the coronavirus could become the predominant strain in the United States by March, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published Friday.
So far, only 76 cases of the variant, called B.1.1.7, have been identified in the country, in 10 states, the CDC said.
But models project that the variant could see “rapid growth” in coming months, putting further strain on the health care system.
“We are very concerned about this variant,” said Michael Johansson, one of the study’s authors and co-lead of the modeling team for the CDC’s Covid-19 response.
Johansson said the CDC is working to increase efforts to do more testing for such variants in the U.S.
The report comes as the U.S. continues to see cases surpass 200,000 each day. Thursday was the third consecutive day that more than 3,000 people died of Covid-19 in the United States, with a daily total of 3,957. Hospital systems across the country are overwhelmed with Covid-19 patients.
There is no evidence to suggest that the U.K. variant might make people sicker. But a faster spread is sure to lead to more cases overall, the study authors wrote, “exacerbating the burden on an already strained health care system, and resulting in more deaths.”
Download the NBC News app for full coverage of the coronavirus outbreak
The variant’s increased contagiousness means the U.S. must double down on mitigation strategies, including distancing and masking, as well increasing vaccination rates, the CDC said.
“The increased transmissibility of the B.1.1.7 variant warrants universal and increased compliance with mitigation strategies, including distancing and masking,” the study authors wrote.
Those mitigation measures include rapid rollout of Covid-19 vaccines, the CDC wrote, and are crucial to slow the initial spread of the U.K. variant, the CDC said.
“We know that people are tired and discouraged by what’s happened with this pandemic,” Johansson said. “But we know that we can act decisively now, and we can turn the corner, and really help prevent another wave coming in the spring.”