The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) variant tracker is now reporting that the B.1.1.7 coronavirus variant has reached all 50 states in the U.S. The variant, which was originally detected in the U.K. late last year, was recently estimated to have been circulating undetected for months before it was first discovered in Colorado in December.
As of Monday, the CDC had tallied over 15,500 cases across 52 jurisdictions, far surpassing the 374 B.1351, or South African, variant cases reported in the U.S. Florida has seen the highest number of B.1.1.7 cases with over 3,190, while Michigan, which is seeing a spike in illnesses, follows with 1,649 cases.
Experts have indicated that these numbers are likely an underestimate due to a lack of surveillance in some areas.
Health officials have warned that variants, which have a higher transmissibility than the original strain of COVID-19, pose a threat to the progress gained in the pandemic. Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, stopped short of pinning the blame on variants for a recent rise in cases among younger demographics but said they were likely part of the “many moving parts.”
She has previously estimated the variant to account for 26% of the virus cases in the U.S. Officials predicted the B.1.1.7 variant would become the dominant strain by the end of March in the U.S., which Walensky has said is already the case in at least five regions.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the White House’s chief medical advisor, has repeatedly stated that vaccinating as many people as possible as quickly as possible is a way to fight back against the variants. He has previously explained that the more virus in the community the greater the chance for mutation to occur. Fauci has said that the virus needs a host in order to mutate, and if more and more hosts are eliminated, the chance of it taking on a form that could escape vaccine efficacy is lessened.