Experts say UK strain of COVID-19 may already be in US

A new strain of COVID-19 spreading widely in the United Kingdom may already be circulating in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control released research Tuesday saying scientists are working to understand if the mutated virus is more contagious.

The new strain has not officially been detected in the U.S. but the CDC says it could already be here and spreading.

"It’s only now that American scientists are beginning to look for this new strain, and I am sure in the next two or three days you will hear that these mutants will be found in the U.S. as well," said Dr. Edwin Michael, USF epidemiology professor.

Dr. Michael studies the spread of infectious diseases. He says the COVID-19 variant is becoming common in England.

"Mid-November 10% of the population in London carried this strain, now on December 22 it’s over 60%," Michael said.

Michael is currently in quarantine in western London at a relative’s home. He landed Saturday, hours before the U.K. announced new lockdowns to stop the spread of the concerning strain.

"So they were a little bit stunned when the prime minister came out that evening and said that they were imposing these tougher restrictions in London and the southeast of London," said Michael.

Scientists across the pond say the virus might be more contagious. 

However, the CDC said Tuesday:

"Although a variant may predominate in a geographic area, that fact alone does not mean that the variant is more infectious. Scientists are working to learn more about this variant to better understand how easily it might be transmitted and whether currently authorized vaccines will protect people against it."

Michael added, "It might be just normally transmitting, but it’s people mixing which has led to this resurgence."

Flights and trains from the U.K. are now banned in more than 40 countries.

Thankfully, there is no evidence the new strain causes more severe illness or increased risk of death. Still, experts say the variant makes social distancing and masks even more crucial this holiday season, and beyond.

"So I think a big lesson from this is maintain those social mitigation measures," said Michael.

Scientists say the coronavirus mutates regularly, and most are insignificant changes.

Last month, the CDC launched a COVID-19 strain surveillance program, when it’s fully up and running, new mutations will be more strongly monitored.