OAKLAND, Calif. - British scientists say a COVID variant already found circulating in the Bay Area is likely linked to increased hospitalizations and death.
It’s thought to be stickier, meaning it does a better job at sticking to cells.
The UK variant, formerly known as B117, has been found in more than 80 countries.
The first sample was discovered in Britain in late September and the variant now accounts for 90% of the cases in parts of the UK.
And there’s concern this potentially more lethal variant will become dominant in the United States.
Health officials say the B117 variant of coronavirus is spreading rapidly, doubling about every ten days and the CDC says it’s infiltrated most states.
"We have over 1,000 cases of the B117 variant in, across the country, 39 states," said CDC Director, Rochelle Walensky.
The variant was recently found in the Bay Area, but the degree of circulation is unknown because, according to a UCSF disease specialist, the U.S. analyzes less than 1% of samples, ranking 34th in the world in sequencing for variants.
"So, the fact that we're doing less than 1% means that this is the tip of the iceberg. There are probably, just by chance, probably reflects something that's much deeper and already transmitted in our community," said UCSF infectious diseaes specialist Dr. Peter Chin-Hong.
British scientists published a study on a government website Friday indicating it’s likely the B117 variant is associated with an "increased risk of hospitalization and death."
But the paper adds there are "limitations in the data," so higher mortality risk is not conclusive.
What is know is it’s up to 50% more contagious, leading experts to believe it may soon become the dominant strain in the US.
"The Republic of Ireland, for example, B117 started off very low rates at the beginning of December. By the end of December it was quadruple in incidents," said Dr. Chin-Hong.
The variant is growing as COVID restrictions have recently eased in the Bay Area and many other parts of the country.
Minnesota has expanded capacity in restaurants, gyms and private events.
Ohio has lifted a three-month overnight curfew, and New York now allows indoor dining at 25% capacity.
But the variant could put the brakes on broader openings.
"Yes, it definitely has the potential to turn back the clock on some of the progress that we've made," said Chin-Hong.
So far, more than 50-million Americans have been vaccinated. The number in California is crossing 6 million.
And the CDC says, so far, vaccines still work against this particular variant.