Today Texas, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut became the latest states to confirm cases of B117, a variant strain of the novel coronavirus that began widely circulating in the United Kingdom at the end of last year.
Harris County Public Health tweeted that a Texas man in his 30s man with no travel history has tested positive for the virus. In Pennsylvania, the case was identified after the patient had known contact with an international case.
Connecticut officials confirmed that two case-patients have been identified, including one person with a travel history to Ireland.
There are now at least 56 cases of B117 in eight states. California (26) and Florida (22) have reported the most. Single cases have also been found in New York, Florida, and Georgia, and Colorado officials have confirmed two cases.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will begin tracking and publicly reporting variant COVID-19 case counts in the United States and updating data on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
CDC officials told the Washington Post they suspect the mutant variant is present in most states, and will become more common in the coming weeks. The variant is thought to be 50% more contagious than the strain that originated in Wuhan, China, 1 year ago, but so far it does not seem to cause more severe illness or symptoms.
The arrival of the variant comes as the nation begins to roll out a massive vaccination campaign meant to one day help achieve herd immunity and end the pandemic. Experts believe the current vaccines will be protective against B117 because they produce broadly neutralizing antibodies.
B117 is thought to be more transmissible because patients have a higher viral load, meaning viral particles are shed more easily through coughs and sneezes.
Record US deaths, hospitalizations
Yesterday the US reported 253,145 new COVID-19 cases, and 3,865 deaths—a grim new fatality record, according to the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 dashboard. There are also 132,476 COVID-19 patients in US hospitals, a record high per the COVID Tracking Project.
The CDC also updated its forecast on COVID-19 fatalities, and projected that 405,000 to 438,000 COVID-19 deaths will be reported by Jan 30. In total, the country has 21,468,084 cases and 363,519 deaths.
According to NBC News, six states reported recorded COVID-19 highs yesterday: Louisiana, New Hampshire, Nevada, New York, Oklahoma, and Virginia. The surge in cases is likely tied to Christmas and New Year's celebrations.
In California, the state saw a 2-day record of COVID-19 deaths, with 1,042 deaths totaled yesterday and today across the state. Hospitals in hot spots, including Los Angeles, are threatened to be overrun in the coming weeks.
According to the Associated Press, more than 8,000 people in Los Angeles County are hospitalized with COVID-19, with a fifth of them in intensive care.
HHS announces $22 billion for testing, vaccination
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that the CDC will be allocated $22 billion in the coming weeks to fund testing and vaccine distribution.
"This funding is another timely investment that will strengthen our nation's efforts to stop the COVID-19 pandemic in America," said CDC Director Robert Redfield, MD, in a statement.
"Particularly now, it is crucial that states and communities have the resources they need to conduct testing, and to distribute and administer safe, high-quality COVID-19 vaccines safely and equitably."