New strains of COVID-19 spreading around the globe

   Viruses are constantly mutating, and the COVID-19 virus is no exception. Multiple variations of COVID-19 have been documented in the United States and globally since the start of this pandemic, but, recently, a new strain has proved more difficult to control than the others. 

   There are currently three main variations that are spreading around the world. A COVID-19 variant known as 1.351 was first reported in South Africa in October 2020. The 1.351 strain has not yet been reported in the US. A second strain, known as P . 1, was discovered in four travelers from Brazil who were tested at an airport outside Tokyo, Japan. This strain has not yet been reported in the US. 

   The third and what appears to be the most dangerous strain began in the UK in September 2020. This strain is known as B. 1. 1. 7 and spreads more easily than other variants. It spread rapidly in London and southeast England and is now being reported in other countries around the world, including the US and Canada. 

   These strains spread more easily than previous strains of COVID-19; however, they have not been shown to cause more severe illness or an increased chance of death. To prevent a rapid spread in the United States, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends increased compliance with public health strategies such as social distancing, masks, vaccination, and quarantine. 

   According to the CDC, the most dangerous strain to the United States is the B. 1. 1. 7 variant. It is estimated to be 50 percent more contagious than the original COVID-19 strain. Despite there being only 76 reported cases of the B. 1. 1. 7 strain in the US as of January 15, the CDC predicts that this strain will cause half of the new infections by March. 

   The predicted worst-case scenario is that 200,000 people will be infected per day in the US by late April, but there is hope in the form of vaccines. If one million people in the US get vaccinated every day, it could slow the spread of COVID-19 from 200,000 cases per day to 100,000 cases. As of January 14, only 10 million vaccines have been administered, which is four million less than the needed amount to cut cases in half. 

   The vaccine is a promising step in the right direction, but it does not mean social distancing protocols are over. CDC data shows that the vaccines are significantly more effective when paired with social distancing, masks, and hand-washing. Following public health protocols is essential in stopping the spread of COVID-19.