Most Spring Infections in Dallas Will Be from New Coronavirus Strain
UT Southwestern medical researchers model projects county could have up to 3,300 daily infections by month-end.
The most contagious variant of covid-19 first seen in England has already been detected in North Texas just as hospitals are reaching their limits.
Even though the vaccines are already in place in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, medical specialists worry that they won't reach people fast enough to offer immunity to the variant, which they fear will trigger a further surge.
Even without the new UK variant, Dallas County averaged around 2,200 new cases each day for the past week. And a forecast released Thursday by UT Southwestern Medical Center predicts that daily new cases will rise to 3,300 by the end of the month.
The UK variant, estimated to have emerged in England in September, now accounts for around three-quarters of all new COVID-19 cases there. It was first detected in the United States in late December and in Houston a week later.
Dallas County reported its first known case Saturday. In a new study, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They projected that the variant would become the dominant source of infection in the United States in March.
"If the transmission levels of the new variant are similar in Texas compared to estimates from the UK, then what we can expect is that it will spread across the state and accelerate transmission locally," said Spencer Fox, a researcher who makes pandemic forecasts at the University of Texas at Austin.
Experts say the UK variant is just one of many reasons to be concerned about high levels of virus transmission. Although the UK variant is not more lethal, and current vaccines should work against it, the fact that it can spread faster could further affect hospitals.
Experts also warn that with so much virus in the community, new, more contagious and possibly more dangerous variants could emerge.
“We have to reduce the (infection rate) of the disease as soon as possible,” said Dr. John Carlo, a former medical director for the Dallas County Health Department, who now runs a local network of HIV clinics. "We are providing more and more opportunities for this virus to create new variants that can escape our immune system, but could also change in terms of the severity of the disease."
Most contagious virus
Experts believe that the UK variant, known as B.1.1.7, is between 40% and 70% more transmissible than pre-existing strains. A report from England, for example, found that people carrying the new variant infected about 15% of their contacts, compared to just 10% for other variants.
Another study by British researchers found similar statistics and projected that the new variant would require strict control measures. Just before Christmas, the UK imposed a lockdown on London and other parts of the country, shutting down non-essential businesses, schools and universities. The restrictions appear to be working, British officials said last week.
Scientists are also concerned about two other new, more transmissible variants, one first identified in South Africa and the other in Brazil.
New research from scientists at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle suggests that those two strains, which have yet to be detected in the United States, could be more difficult for the human immune system to fight.
That means that people who have recovered from COVID-19 could be re-infected with the new variants, and the variants can also reduce the effectiveness of certain medications. However, this is not believed to be the case for the UK variant.
The South African strain could evade a monoclonal antibody treatment by laboratory Eli Lilly, the company's chief executive told CNBC last week. Treatment is aimed at newly diagnosed patients at high risk of complications from covid-19.