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Added: March 18, 2021
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said two coronavirus variants first detected in California, B.1427 and B.1429, are now considered as variants of concern. The CDC said the variants may be 20% more transmissible.
In comparison, the variant B117, first identified in the United Kingdom, is considered 50% more transmissible than the original wild type COVID-19 virus. Neither of the new variants of concern are thought to escape the effectiveness of currently approved vaccines, but therapeutics, including monoclonal antibody treatments, may be slightly less effective.
Currently, the CDC’s variant tracker shows 4,686 B117 cases in 50 states, 142 B1351 cases in 25 states, and 27 P1 cases in 12 states.
New hot spots emerging across the country
Variants, especially B117, may be behind the emergence of hot spots in parts of the Upper Midwest, Northeast, and Mid-Atlantic, according to the Washington Post. The increase in cases in those regions comes after almost 2 months of declining cases, deaths, and hospitalizations following the third winter holiday surge of virus activity.
In New York City, case decline rates have flattened, and Michigan, Minnesota, and Maryland are all reporting a slight uptick in cases this week.
Experts told the Washington Post that in addition to variants, pandemic fatigue is contributing to the rise in cases. Last weekend, 1.2 million to 1.3 million people traveled by air each day from Thursday to Sunday, more than any 4-day period since March of 2020.
Trump urges vaccination
The uptick comes as many states simultaneously loosen restrictions and make more residents eligible for vaccination. Maine, Virginia and Wisconsin, as well as Washington D.C. announced this week all adults in their states would be eligible for vaccination by May 1, President Biden’s deadline.
According to the New York Times, Colorado, Connecticut, Ohio, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, and Utah hope to make all adults eligible by the end of this month.
The CDC COVID Data Tracker shows 147,590,615 COVID-19 vaccines doses have been delivered in the US, and 113,037,627 have been administered, with 39,989,196 Americans fully vaccinated.
Yesterday, former President Donald Trump said on Fox News he and former First Lady Melania Trump privately got their COVID-19 vaccines in January, and urged his followers to follow suit.
“I would recommend it and I would recommend it to a lot of people that don’t want to get it and a lot of those people voted for me, frankly,” Trump said.
CDC announces more funding for testing in underserved communities
The United States reported 53,579 new COVID-19 cases yesterday, and 1,286 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 tracker. In total, the United States has confirmed 29,562,060 COVID-19 cases, including 537,284 deaths.
Today during the White House press briefing, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH, said the latest 7-day averages for new cases is 53,000, with daily hospitalizations at 4,700, and daily death tolls at 1,100.
Walensky said the CDC was undertaking a new effort to expand testing and contact tracing in underserved communities, and had updated their guidance on who should get tested with what kind of tests.
“Testing remains a critical approach to ending the pandemic,” she said. The White House also announced new efforts to expand testing within schools.
The CDC will also direct $2.25 billion to addressing health disparities and COVID-19.
“This investment will be monumental in anchoring equity at the center of our nation’s COVID-19 response—and is a key step forward in bringing resources and focus to health inequities that have for far too long persisted in our country,” Walensky said in a press statement.
Marcella Nunez-Smith, MD, MHS, head of the health equity task force, also said the Biden administration was allocating $150 million toward monoclonal antibody therapies in underserved communities.