Highly contagious UK COVID-19 variant now most common strain in US

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The highly contagious UK coronavirus variant is now more prevalent in the US than the original strain that devastated the country last spring, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday.

“It is the most common lineage — period,” CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said at a White House press conference. “We need to remain vigilant.”

The B117 variant — which is believed to be up to 70 percent more contagious than the original — has been found in all 50 US states and accounts for more than half of all cases in the country, she said.

Last week, New York City said 70 percent of new COVID-19 cases in the Big Apple are from variants — though the majority were the homegrown B.1.526 variant. About a quarter of people tested during the week of March 15-21 had the UK variant.

The CDC said in January it expected the UK strain, first reported in the US in December, to become the most dominant variant of the virus in the US by the end of March.

But unlike the South African and Brazilian variants, it does not appear to weaken vaccines, health officials have said.

On Monday, Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, said the UK strain should be treated like “almost a brand new virus.”

He warned against assuming that the variant acts like previously known strains of the virus that causes COVID.

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