Another coronavirus variant linked to growing share of cases, several large outbreaks, in California

Coroner Elizabeth Napoles, right, of the Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner, works with National Guardsmen, helping to store the bodies of covid-19 victims last week. 

Health officials stress they haven’t determined whether the variant might be more contagious or resistant to vaccines.

coronavirus variant first identified in Denmark has ripped through Northern California — including outbreaks at nursing homes, jails and a hospital in the San Jose area — prompting state and local officials to investigate whether it may be more transmissible.

California officials disclosed the rise of the variant Sunday night after genetic monitoring linked it to a fast-growing share of new cases, as well as to the outbreaks in Santa Clara county, which includes San Jose.

This rising variant is distinct from the highly contagious mutation discovered by Britain, which has also been found in California, and which federal health officials project could become the dominant strain in the United States by March based on its proven higher transmissibility.

Experts stress that they need to look more closely at the circumstances of the Northern California outbreaks, as well as at the latest variant — this one, known as L452R — before declaring it more contagious or more dangerous than the virus already broadly circulating.

The L452R variant was first detected in northern Europe in March and has since been confirmed in more than a dozen states, including California in May. The discovery did not garner much attention at the time because all viruses change constantly as they replicate. But public health authorities deem some variants to be “of concern” if evidence suggests they might be more contagious, potentially deadlier or resistant to vaccines.

California publicized the latest variant at a late Sunday news conference after researchers identified it in about 25 percent of samples collected between Dec. 14 and Jan. 3, a surge from 3.8 percent of samples collected in the preceding three-week period.

“That is suggestive, and it’s a little worrisome,” Charles Chiu, a virologist at the University of California at San Francisco said at the briefing. But Chiu stressed it was too early to conclude the variant is more infectious because scientists do not know whether their sampling was representative or whether the variant’s increase might be due to random chance, or even a series of superspreader events.

Officials urged people to follow public health guidelines to minimize the risk of contracting the variant as new daily cases in the hard-hit state plateau at more than 38,000, while deaths average more than 515 daily.

“It’s too soon to know if this variant will spread more rapidly than others,” said Erica Pan, California’s state epidemiologist, “but it certainly reinforces the need for all Californians to wear masks and reduce mixing with people outside their immediate households to help slow the spread of the virus.”

Genetic sequencing of viruses is still limited in the United States, preventing health officials from having a real-time picture of all the strains of coronavirus spreading across the country and their prevalence.

California’s preliminary data is based on fewer than 400 samples that overwhelmingly came from the state’s north. Southern California is the heaviest hit part of the state, with deaths in Los Angeles County reaching one every seven minutes and ICU beds and oxygen running out, although hospitalizations have begun to plateau. Environmental regulators on Sunday temporarily lifted limits on cremations because of a backlog in Los Angeles County.

The L452R strain in California raised alarms because it is associated with several large outbreaks in Santa Clara County, including one at a hospital that infected at least 90 people and killed one staff member. Officials at Kaiser Permanente San Jose Medical Center said a staff member wearing an inflatable Christmas tree costume to spread holiday cheer likely spread coronavirus-laden droplets instead.

A Kaiser Permanente employee died and dozens of others contracted the coronavirus after a staffer appeared at the San Jose medical center wearing an inflatable, air-powered holiday costume on Christmas Day.

Sara Cody, Santa Clara’s top public health official, described that episode as a “very unusual outbreak with a lot of illnesses, and it seemed to spread quite fast.” The county is working with state health officials and the CDC to investigate what happened, she said.

Cody cautioned that the outbreak could have been driven by factors unrelated to the variant, such as changes in ventilation or personal protective equipment practices at the hospital.

“The takeaway is not that we need to start worrying about this,” Cody said Sunday. “The takeaway is, this is a variant that’s becoming more prevalent, and we need to lean in and understand more about it.”

County officials on Monday disclosed other places where the variant had been found as a result of aggressive genetic sequencing, “including cases associated with the Kaiser outbreak, skilled nursing facility outbreaks, cases in jails and shelters, and specimens from testing sites in the community,” according to a statement. “This suggests that the variant is now relatively common in our community.”

Chiu, the virologist who conducted the genetic sequencing, said a deeper investigation must be done to determine if the strain is more transmissible like the one found in the United Kingdom.

He also raised concerns that a mutation associated with the variant might make it more resistant to vaccines because it occurs in a critical part of the spike protein that is targeted by the vaccines,but he added that the virus must be grown in a lab and tested more fully before any conclusions can be drawn.

“Mutations happen all the time,” said William Hanage, an epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “Some of them take off and the great majority of them don’t. The main reason why we are paying attention to this is because this mutation has previously been noted as being of particular concern in terms of diminishing the efficacy of the immune response.”

Carlos del Rio, a professor of medicine and global health at Emory University, said the rising prevalence of the variant shows the urgent need for more genetic sequencing in the United States and for greater compliance with public health measures such as wearing masks and avoiding crowds.

“We really need to hunker down because if you are really concerned about mutations, stop transmission,” del Rio said. “The more mutations you see, the more uncontrolled transmission you will see.”

After starting the new year with record-high cases, deaths and hospitalizations, the United States is starting to see signs of slowing spread despite fears of a post-holiday surge that would continue through January. The seven-day average of new infections has slowed since last Tuesday, and hospitalizations have started to plateau, according to Washington Post tracking.

Still, Scott Gottlieb, a former Food and Drug Administration commissioner, warned that the advent of more transmissible variants could reverse that progress.

“As current epidemic surge peaks, we may see 3-4 weeks of declines in new cases but then new variant will take over,” Gottlieb tweeted Sunday, referring to the British variant. “It’ll double in prevalence about every week. It’ll change the game and could mean we have persistent high infection through spring until we vaccinate enough people.”

The United States could hit half a million covid-19 deaths by mid-February

“It took 12 weeks for the death toll to rise from 200,000 to 300,000. The death toll has leaped from 300,000 to almost 400,000 in less than five weeks,” The Post’s  Marc Fisher, Lori Rozsa, Mark Kreidler and Annie Gowen report. 

Yet despite the massive death toll and the changes to daily life caused by the pandemic, the individual deaths are largely invisible.  

“Coronavirus victims who die in the hospital often spend their final days cut off from family and friends, their only human contact coming from medical personnel hidden behind layers of protective gear. Even those who die at home often decline in quarantine, keeping a lonely vigil over their body’s fight,” my colleagues write.

The numbers are expected to quickly rise. Rochelle Walensky, the incoming director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told “Face The Nation” on Sunday that she anticipated half a million deaths by mid-February.

“That doesn’t speak to the tens of thousands of people who are living with a yet- uncharacterized syndrome after they’ve recovered. We still yet haven’t yet seen the ramifications from holiday travel, holiday gathering in terms of high rates of hospitalizations,” Walensky added.

England Will Go Into National Lockdown Amid Covid-19 Surge

Britain Put On Lockdown For Amid Coronavirus “National Emergency” – Deadline

TOPLINE

England will enter a national lockdown until at least mid-February to stem the spread of the coronavirus, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced Monday, as the so-called U.K. variant continues to spread throughout the country.

KEY FACTS

Coronavirus is again surging in the U.K. because of a new, more transmissible mutation of Covid-19 called B.1.1.7.

The lockdown will close all non-essential businesses and restaurants will be required to limit service to takeout orders.

Schools will be closed to all students except for the children of essential workers.

Johnson’s announcement comes after Scotland imposed a similar lockdown earlier Monday.

This is a developing story.

US hits 350,000 COVID-19 deaths amid fear of surge after holiday gatherings

https://thehill.com/homenews/532396-us-hits-350000-covid-19-deaths-amid-fear-of-surge-after-holiday-gatherings

As U.S. inches closer to 350,000 Covid-19 deaths, one model proj -  WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

More than 350,000 people have died of the coronavirus in the U.S., with another surge of cases and deaths expected in the coming weeks as a result of smaller holiday gatherings.

The country reached the grim milestone early Sunday morning, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. More than 20 million people have been infected since the pandemic began nearly one year ago, according to the tally.

Public health experts attributed a nationwide spike in cases, hospitalizations and deaths in early December to a large number of Americans traveling over the Thanksgiving holiday, and pleaded with citizens to stay home for Christmas and New Year’s celebrations. 

Multiple states have reported a record number of cases, including North Carolina and Arizona, according to the Associated Press. New York hit 1 millions cases total as of Saturday, becoming the fourth state to do so along with Texas, Florida and California.

Last month, federal officials approved two vaccines by Pfizer and Moderna for emergency use. The first round of doses have been administered to doctors, nurses and other front line healthcare workers as well as nursing home residents.

The elderly and other patients deemed “high risk” are the next group of Americans slated to receive vaccines with public health officials estimating younger and healthy citizens can expect to be eligible for vaccination toward the middle to end of spring. 

The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention last week reported more than 2 million people in America have been vaccinated, far short of the 20 million figure the federal government initially said it hoped to top by this time. That number has since grown to 4.2 million as of Sunday. 

“We would have liked to have seen it run smoothly and have 20 million doses into people today by the end of the 2020, which was the projection,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease doctor. “Obviously, it didn’t happen, and that’s disappointing.”

Fauci said a targeted approach in assisting local governments in vaccine rollout programs is the best way for the federal government to make up for lost time. 

“There really has to be a lot more effort in the sense of resources for the locals, namely, the states, the cities, the counties, the places where the vaccine is actually going into the arms of individuals,” Fauci said. 

California reports first case of new coronavirus variant

https://www.axios.com/california-covid-coronavirus-variant-1081cbb4-5d2c-42f2-8785-b35e567296c9.html

California reported its first case of a new variant of the coronavirus that may be more transmissible, AP reports.

The big picture: California is the second state to document a confirmed case of the variant — which originated in the United Kingdom — after Colorado reported the first case in the United States on Tuesday.

  • California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the infection during an online conversation with Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, according to AP.
  • The governor said the case was located in Southern California, but he did not provide any other details about the person who was infected.
  • “I don’t think Californians should think that this is odd. It’s to be expected,” Fauci said Wednesday, per AP.

Of note: There is thus far no evidence that the new variant is more deadly — only that it appears more transmissible. There is also no evidence that COVID-19 vaccines will be less effective against the new variant.

  • A non-peer reviewed study by the Centre for Mathematical Modelling of Infectious Diseases at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found that the variant is 56% more transmissible than other strains.
  • The British government previously warned that a new variant could be up to 70% more transmissible.

Go deeper: What you need to know about the coronavirus mutation

Biden to address nation on pandemic as Fauci says coronavirus surge ‘has just gotten out of control’

Fauci: U.S. may see “surge upon surge” of coronavirus in weeks ahead – The  Denver Post

President-elect Joe Biden plans to deliver an address on the coronavirus pandemic as the nation experiences what his chief medical adviser on the issue, Anthony S. Fauci, described Tuesday as a surge in cases “that has just gotten out of control in many respects.”

Biden’s remarks, planned Tuesday afternoon in Wilmington, Del., are expected to be his most extensive comments to date since early this month, when he laid out a plan for his first 100 days in office that included imploring all Americans to wear masks.

Fauci, appearing on CNN on Tuesday morning, lamented what he expects to be a post-holiday increase in cases and the strong possibility than January’s caseload will exceed even that of December. “You just have to assume it’s going to get worse,” Fauci said.

Fauci also acknowledged that the rollout of vaccines was not reaching as many Americans as quickly as the 20 million that Trump administration had pledged by the end of the month.

“We certainly are not at the numbers that we wanted to be at the end of December,” said Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “We are below where we want to be.”

But Fauci, who accepted Biden’s invitation to play an expanded role in his administration, expressed hope that by “showing leadership from the top,” Biden could make an impact — comments that appeared to be implicit criticism of President Trump, who has said little publicly about the crisis since Election Day.

“What he’s saying is that let’s take at least 100 days and everybody, every single person put aside this nonsense of making masks be a political statement or not,” Fauci said of Biden. “We know what works. We know social distancing works. We know avoiding congregant settings works. For goodness sakes, let’s all do it, and you will see that curve will come down.”

Separately Tuesday, Vice President-elect Kamala D. Harris plans to get vaccinated in Washington. Biden received his first shot last week.

In remarks earlier this month, Biden also pledged to distribute 100 million vaccine shots in his first 100 days in office and said he wanted to open as many schools safely during the period as possible. He has also promised to sign an executive order requiring masks to be worn on federal property.

On Monday, Celine Gounder, a member of Biden’s covid-19 advisory board, said during a television appearance that Biden is also considering invoking the Defense Production Act to increase production of coronavirus vaccines,

Appearing on CNBC’s “Squawk Box,” Grounder said Biden could invoke the wartime-production law “to make sure the personal protective equipment, the test capacity and the raw materials for the vaccines are produced in adequate supply.”

During his CNN appearance, Fauci said that getting children back to school safely should remain an imperative, despite rising caseloads.

“You can’t have one size fits all, but the bottom line, what I call default position, should be that wherever we are, try as best as we can to get the children back to school and to keep them in school and to have a plan to try and keep them as safe as possible,” he said.

About 200,000 new coronavirus cases have been reported daily in recent weeks, with a record high of 252,431 on Dec. 17.

The nation’s overall caseload surpassed 19 million Sunday, even as the holidays were expected to cause a lag in reporting. Hospitalizations have exceeded 100,000 since the start of December and hit a peak of 119,000 on Dec. 23. Deaths are averaging more than 2,000 a day, with the most ever reported — 3,406 fatalities — on Dec. 17.

1 of every 17 people in the U.S. has been infected, and 1 in 1,000 has died. Yet the worst may lie ahead.

1 of every 17 people in the U.S. has been infected, and 1 in 1,000 has died.  Yet the worst may lie ahead. - The New York Times

With bubble-enclosed Santas and Zoom-enhanced family gatherings, much of the United States played it safe over Christmas while the coronavirus rampaged across the country.

But a significant number of Americans traveled, and uncounted gatherings took place, as they will over the New Year holiday.

And that, according to the nation’s top infectious disease expert, Anthony S. Fauci, could mean new spikes in cases, on top of the existing surge.

“We very well might see a post-seasonal — in the sense of Christmas, New Year’s — surge,” Dr. Fauci said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

“We’re really at a very critical point,” he said. “If you put more pressure on the system by what might be a post-seasonal surge because of the traveling and the likely congregating of people for, you know, the good warm purposes of being together for the holidays, it’s very tough for people to not do that.”

On “Fox News Sunday,” Adm. Brett P. Giroir, the administration’s testing coordinator, noted that Thanksgiving travel did not lead to an increase of cases in all places, which suggested that many people heeded recommendations to wear masks and limit the size of gatherings.

“It really depends on what the travelers do when they get where they’re going,” Admiral Giroir said. “We know the actual physical act of traveling in airplanes, for example, can be quite safe because of the air purification systems. What we really worry about is the mingling of different bubbles once you get to your destination.”

Still, U.S. case numbers are about as high as they have ever been. Total infections surpassed 19 million on Saturday, meaning that at least 1 in 17 people have contracted the virus over the course of the pandemic. And the virus has killed more than 332,000 people — one in every thousand in the country.

Two of the year’s worst days for deaths have been during the past week. A number of states set death records on Dec. 22 or Dec. 23, including Alabama, Wisconsin, Arizona and West Virginia, according to The Times’s data.

And hospitalizations are hovering at a pandemic height of about 120,000, according to the Covid Tracking Project.

Against that backdrop, millions of people in the United States have been traveling, though many fewer than usual.

About 3.8 million people passed through Transportation Safety Administration travel checkpoints between Dec. 23 and Dec. 26, compared with 9.5 million on those days last year. Only a quarter of the number who flew on the day after Christmas last year did so on Friday, and Christmas Eve travel was down by one-third from 2019.

And AAA’s forecast that more than 81 million Americans would travel by car for the holiday period, from Dec. 23 to Jan. 3, which would be about one-third fewer than last year.

For now, the U.S. is no longer seeing overall explosive growth, although California’s worsening outbreak has canceled out progress in other parts of the country. The state has added more than 300,000 cases in the seven-day period ending Dec. 22. And six Southern states have seen sustained case increases in the last week: Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, Florida and Texas.

Holiday reporting anomalies may obscure any post-Christmas spike until the second week of January. Testing was expected to decrease around Christmas and New Year’s, and many states said they would not report data on certain days.

On Christmas Day, numbers for new infections, 91,922, and deaths, 1,129, were significantly lower than the seven-day averages. But on Saturday, new infections jumped past 225,800 new cases and deaths rose past 1,640, an expected increase over Friday as some states reported numbers for two days post-Christmas.

The deadliest year in U.S. history didn’t have to be so deadly

If you decided to read the names of every American who is known to have died of covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, at a rate of one per second starting at 5 p.m. Tuesday, you would not finish until a bit after 10 a.m. Saturday. Except, of course, that’s only including the deaths known as of writing; by then, we can expect 8,000 more deaths, pushing the recitation past noon.

Preliminary federal figures indicate that more than 3.2 million Americans will die over the course of 2020, the highest figure on record. It’s just a bit shy of 1 percent of the total population as of July 1, and about 1 in 10 of those deaths will be a result of covid-19.

That’s the primary context in which any discussion about how the pandemic has affected the United States should occur. Secondarily, we should consider how the number of new coronavirus infections correlates to that figure. At the moment, nearly two people are dying of covid-19 each minute, a function of a massive surge in the number of new infections that began in mid-September.

The surge and the deaths are inextricable. For months, the number of new deaths on any given day has been about 1.8 percent of new cases several weeks prior. Allowing the virus to spread wildly means allowing more Americans to die.

In an opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal, one of the architects of the decision to let the virus spread, former White House adviser Scott Atlas, blames the scale of the pandemic on the media. It’s the “politicization” of the virus, he argues, that has led to the dire outcomes we see, and that’s largely due to “media distortion.”

It’s hard to overstate both how dishonest Atlas’s argument is and how ironic it is that he should point the blame elsewhere. He makes false assertions about where states have been successful and suggests that mitigation efforts that weren’t 100 percent effective shouldn’t be used. He boasts that the effort to combat the spread of the virus was left to states — which is precisely the criticism aimed at President Trump’s administration. When Trump (and Atlas) undercut efforts to slow the spread of the virus, Trump supporters — including state leaders — picked up on that approach, contributing to the current spread.

Trump and Atlas shared the view that allowing the virus to spread was beneficial, as doing so increased population immunity. That another result would be surging deaths was met with a shrug or silence.

At the end of March, Trump offered one of his only forceful endorsements of slowing the spread of the virus. Having been presented with research indicating that as many as 2.2 million Americans would die of the virus if no effort was taken to limit its spread, he endorsed stay-at-home measures aimed at preventing new infections. His team suggested that implementing such mitigation efforts would keep the death toll under 240,000, with the added benefit of preventing hospitals from being overwhelmed.

This was one of Atlas’s arguments, too: Let the virus spread but backstop hospitals to prevent them from being flooded. The government accomplished the first goal, at least.

So we’ve raced past the 240,000-death mark, passing 300,000 deaths this month.

It’s important to remember, too, how often Trump himself promised this wasn’t going to be the country’s future. As the virus was spreading without detection — in part thanks to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s failure to develop a working test — Trump repeatedly downplayed how bad things would get. There were thousands of deaths around the world, he noted in early March, but less than a dozen in the United States. He compared the coronavirus to the seasonal flu and to the H1N1 pandemic in 2009, an event that had the politically useful characteristic of having occurred while Trump’s eventual opponent in the presidential election was vice president.

Over and over, Trump predicted a high-water mark for coronavirus deaths. Over and over, the country surged past his predictions. As the election approached, he began simply comparing the death toll to that 2.2-million-death figure he’d first introduced in March.

The United States will not reach 2.2 million coronavirus deaths over the course of the pandemic. We probably won’t reach 500,000, assuming that the national vaccination effort — the far-safer way to spread immunity — progresses without significant problems.

Right now, though, thousands of people are dying every day and tens of thousands more are on an inevitable path to the same result. More robust efforts to prevent new infections could have reduced these numbers, as robust efforts did elsewhere (contrary to Atlas’s theories). A consistent, forceful message from a president whose base is devoutly supportive of him would unquestionably have reshaped the virus’s spread. Had Trump embraced the expertise of government virologists, instead of a radiologist he saw on Fox News, it would have perhaps pushed the curve depicting the number of deaths each day back down instead of driving it higher.

This was the deadliest year in American history. Perhaps it would inevitably have been, given the size of the population (particularly the elderly population) and the emergence of covid-19. But it unquestionably didn’t have to be as deadly as it was.

Kaiser Permanente CEO: ‘We’re at or near capacity everywhere’

Kaiser Permanente's health system reaches carbon-neutral status |  FierceHealthcare

Hospital executives in California are sounding alarms on their inpatient capacity as COVID-19 hospitalizations surge in the state, according to ABC News.

As of Dec. 23, California is among the eight states where the virus is spreading quickest. On Dec. 22, the state saw one of its biggest jumps in one-day COVID-19 hospitalizations, with an additional 653 patients admitted to hospitals

Officials from Oakland-based Kaiser Permanente, San Francisco-based Dignity Health and Sacramento-based Sutter Health said during a Dec. 22 news conference that they are facing capacity issues. In some cases, COVID-19 patients are being treated in hallways, gift shops and conference rooms.

Greg Adams, the chairman and CEO of Kaiser Permanente, said during the conference, “We simply will not be able to keep up if the COVID surge continues to increase. We’re at or near capacity everywhere.”

Many hospital officials said Thanksgiving gatherings contributed to the surge. The executives urged Californians to not gather for Christmas and New Year’s. 

Here’s what we know about the new European coronavirus mutation

New coronavirus mutation in United Kingdom: What we know so far - The  Washington Post

A flurry of European travel restrictions announced Sunday over worries about a fast-spreading new variant of the coronavirus have spurred curiosity and concern that the mutation could infect Americans.

After officials in the United Kingdom said Saturday that the variant first identified there was spreading 70 percent faster than others, Google searches about the mutation have spiked. But American public health experts and federal officials say that although it appears that the variant may be more contagious, it is not any more dangerous than others already detected in the United States.

“I don’t think there should be any reason for alarm right now,” Adm. Brett Giroir, who has been in charge of testing, told George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s “This Week.”

Variations to the virus are nothing new, and experts say the novel coronavirus does not mutate as much as influenza, meaning it is less likely that a vaccine would need to be developed every year to keep up with the new strains.

Still, much about this variant remains unknown, such as whether it is a new strain — a functionally different version of the virus.

“The take-home message for right now is that we need to get more information,” said Krutika Kuppalli, an infectious-diseases specialist at the Medical University of South Carolina. “In the meantime, we all need to really double down on our public health measures — wearing masks, remaining physically distanced, avoiding crowds of people.”

Where has the variant been detected?

In September, U.K. researchers discovered the variant’s prevalence when they collected samples from infected people in southeastern England. It seemed to spread quickly.

“This lineage came up quite rapidly,” Nick Loman, one of the researchers and a professor of microbial genomics at the University of Birmingham, told The Washington Post.

New Covid-19 variant: Boris Johnson backtracks on relaxing Christmas rules  - CNN

Since then, Australia, Denmark and the Netherlands have identified cases of the variant in their countries, the World Health Organization told the BBC. On Sunday, Italian officials announced that a patient returning from Britain “in the last few days” was in isolation after scientists detected the mutation.

In South Africa, health officials said Sunday that a version of the virus similar to the U.K. variant has been found in 80 to 90 percent of samples analyzed since mid-November.

Is the variant already in the United States?

The virus has not been detected in the United States, but officials are watching for developments in Britain, Giroir told Stephanopoulos.

Although guidance from federal agencies discourages traveling to Britain, the United States has not banned travel from there.

“I really don’t believe we need to do that yet,” Giroir said.

But New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) pointed out Sunday that it would take only one flight to the United States to spread the mutation, urging federal officials to restrict travel.

“Right now, this variant in the U.K. is getting on a plane and flying to JFK,” Cuomo said on a conference call with reporters.

However, Kuppalli warned that little is known about the effectiveness of a ban, referring to instances in which people rushed to airports and congregated in long lines trying to travel before restrictions were put into effect earlier in the pandemic.

It is also not entirely certain whether the virus gained its foothold in the southeast of England because of its altered genetic markers or through super-spreading events, said Scott Gottlieb, a former head of the Food and Drug Administration.

“It seems like this new strain is more contagious,” Gottlieb said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “It doesn’t seem to be any more virulent, any more dangerous than run-of-the-mill covid. The next question is: Will it obviate our natural immunity?”

Will the authorized vaccines still be effective against this variant of the virus?

As of now, experts say there has been no indication that the variant is resistant to the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines authorized by the FDA.

“There is no reason to believe that the vaccines that have been developed will not be effective against this virus as well,” Vivek H. Murthy, President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee for surgeon general, told host Chuck Todd on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “The bottom line is if you’re at home and hearing this news, it does not change what we do in terms of precautions.”

Although the vaccine remains out of reach for most Americans, following guidance such as social distancing and wearing masks remains the most practical way to prevent transmission.