New COVID-19 strains may be fueling US rise in cases

Describing the vaccination campaign as a "life or death" race against the virus, US health officials say they are expanding the rollout, aiming to have at least 70,000 vaccine providers online to give shots within the next 3 weeks.

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky says the US is averaging just over 62,000 new cases a day, a 12% increase from last week's average.

The 7-day average of hospital admissions is about 4,900 a day, up from an average of 4,600 hospitalizations last week.

COVID-19 deaths are also increasing, Wolensky says, to an average of about 900 deaths each day.

"As we see increases in cases, we can't afford to let our guard down," Dr. Walensky says.

The spread of new variants of the coronavirus may be, at least in part, fueling the jump in new infections.


Dr. Walensky says the B. 1.1.7. variant, which spreads more easily from person-to-person and can cause more severe illness, now makes up 26% of the circulating virus in the US and is the predominant strain in 5 regions of the country.

Georgia public health officials have detected 592 cases of the B. 1.1.7. strain

"So we're starting to see it creep up," Walensky says.  "We do know it's more transmissible, 50 to 70% more than the wild-type strain.  So, to the extent that people are not practicing those standard mitigation strategies, we do think that more infections will result because of B. 1.1.7."

One big question is how well the current vaccines will protect against new strains of the virus.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, says there is mounting evidence the vaccines trigger enough of an immune response to the circulating strain of the virus, that there is a spillover protective effect against new variants.

"The bottom-line message to everyone is why it's so important to get vaccinated," Dr. Fauci says. "Because vaccination is not only going to protect us against the wild type (strain), but it has the potential, to a greater or lesser degree, to also protect against a range of variants.  So, when vaccination becomes available, get vaccinated."

The CDC says 73% of Americans age 65 and older have now had at least one dose of the vaccine, and just over 50% are now fully vaccinated.

About 30% of US adults have now had one shot.

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