The coronavirus variant that was first identified in the UK has now spread to every single state in the U.S.
As of Tuesday, Oklahoma became the final state to confirm infections linked to the strain, known as B 1.1.7.
There are currently at least 15,511 cases of the variant across the country, including in the Distinct of Columbia. according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Since December 2020, the U.S. has only been perform genome sequencing for about 0.3 percent of all people who test positive fro COVID-19.
One epidemiologist tells DailyMail.com that this is not enough and that the CDC and its partners to need to accelerate the speed of testing, as much as tripling capacity, because the federal government is lacking data on how quickly variants spread, and even potentially missing new mutations that may crop up.
He also warned that while vaccines are effective against the B.1.1.7 variant, shots may not be administered quickly enough to cases from surging.
The coronavirus variant first identified in the UK has now been confirmed in every single U.S. state with at least 15,511 cases of the strain across the country
Since December 2020, the CDC and its partners have only been performing genome sequencing on about 0.3% of all patients who test positive as the strain continues to spread
An epidemiologist tells DailyMail.com the CDC needs to ramp up by helping increase the capacity of labs with the ability to perform genome sequencing, asking them how much it will take to double or triple capacity. Pictured: Scientists perform genetic sequencing In Port Isabel, Texas, March 22
‘it’s a race against time when it comes to these variants,’ Dr Ali Mokdad, an epidemiologist with the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, told DailyMail.com
‘We want to vaccinate as soon as possible to control the spread of new variants and we also need to contain our urge to go back to normality until we reach herd immunity.’
The UK variant was first discovered in the county of Kent in September but was not deemed a ‘Variant of Concern’ (VOC) until December.
Its name, B.1.1.7, derives from the location of its most significant mutations.
It now accounts for at least 90 percent of all cases in Britain.
Most estimates put it at about 70 percent more infectious than older ‘wild-type’ coronavirus variants, but more moderate projections say its transmissibility is only about 56 percent higher.
WHAT TO KNOW ABOUT UK VARIANT
‘UK VARIANT’ – B.1.1.7
IS IT MORE INFECTIOUS? Yes, estimated to be 50-70% more infectious
IS IT MORE DEADLY? That isn’t well-established. The latest research suggests it may be up to 55% more fatal.
CAN IT ‘ESCAPE’ VACCINES OR REINFECT PEOPLE? No. Vaccines appear so far to work just as well against B117 and it does not seem to reinfect people.
This is because one of the variant’s many mutations is to the spike protein, which the virus uses to enter and infect human cells.
According to the CDC, B.1.1.7 is believed to make up 32 percent of all COVID-19 cases identified in the U.S.
Depending on the region, the variant also accounts for anywhere between four percent and 36 percent of cases, CDC data show.
But in a new study, researchers from the Scripps Institute found that between December 2020 and February 2021, 67 percent of samples came back positive for the mutation.
This would suggest the the variant is far more widespread than previously believed.
Currently, Florida has the most cases of B.1.1.7 with 3,191, one-fifth of all infections linked to the variant.
Michigan has the second-highest number of variant cases at 1,649 – 10.6 percent overall.
The CDC and its partners, state and local public health laboratories, are sequencing about 13,000 samples per week.
Mokdad says that this is not enough and that the CDC needs to ramp up its surveillance of variants.
‘[I have] been talking about this for a long time,’ he said.
‘Viruses will mutate and we have to stay ahead of the mutations because we need to know what’s circulating, especially if one of the variants circulating makes the vaccines less effective.’
He said that not every laboratory can do genomic surveillance, most simply can tell you if you are or are not infected with coronavirus.
However, federal officials should start reaching out to the facilities that are able to do and provide them with resources to speed up genetic testing.
‘What the U.S. government needed to do yesterday is reach out to all of these labs who have the capacity and ask them: “You have the capacity to do how many tests a day? What will it take to double it or triple it?”‘ he said.
‘Then start building this infrastructure and start moving samples around. Unless we have an inventory of who can do what and how we can help them to increase capacity…we’re gonna be talking about this for like six, seven months and still not be there.’
He recommends that about 10 percent of all cases are sequencing, including from blood donations to catch any asymptomatic cases.