A new and infectious COVID-19 variant, known as B.1.1.7, might become the dominant coronavirus strain in America by March. Here’s what parents need to know about it. 

By Nicole Harris
Updated January 26, 2021
A group of kids wearing masks.
Credit: Getty Images.

The COVID-19 pandemic is still raging, with more than 25 million recorded cases in America. And now experts have discovered a new coronavirus variant (known as B.1.1.7) that's 40 to 70 percent more infectious than the previous one, says David Bar-Or, M.D., Director of Trauma Research at several hospitals in Colorado, Kansas, and Texas, and founder of Ampio Pharmaceuticals

Modeling conducted by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that B.1.1.7 could become the dominant COVID-19 strain in America by March. So what does that mean for pandemic living? Here's everything parents need to know to keep their families safe.

Where Did the New COVID-19 Variant Come From? 

The COVID-19 variant has many mutations on the genetic material controlling spike protein, which causes infection by penetrating host cells. It was first detected in the United Kingdom in September 2020, and it currently accounts for more than 70 percent of new cases there, says Dr. Bar-Or. The variant actually caused the U.K. to implement another round of lockdowns.

B.1.1.7 has been detected in at least 33 other countries and 22 states, including California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, New York, Pennsylvania, and Texas. Only 195 cases have been reported in the U.S. so far, but most individuals didn't have a travel history. This means the COVID-19 variant is already spreading through the community, and the number of  infections will probably surge in the coming weeks.

Is the New Strain More Dangerous?

Initially, the COVID-19 variant wasn't shown to cause more severe illness or increase the risk of death, says the CDC. But experts are reviewing data in real time, and some researchers from the United Kingdom now believe that the new strain might actually be more dangerous. Indeed, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that B.1.1.7 could be 30 percent deadlier than the original strain. More research is needed to understand the reasons behind this trend.

Because B.1.1.7 transmits at a higher rate, we can likely expect a rise in hospitalizations and deaths in America. Our health care system, which is already overburdened with COVID-19 patients, will probably become even more strained.  

Will the Vaccine Protect Against the New Strain?

Moderna recently announced that its COVID-19 vaccine protects against the B.1.1.7 coronavirus variant. "The spike protein isn't mutated enough in that variant to create ineffectiveness," says Jeannie Kenkare, DO, FAAFP, chief medical officer of PhysicianOne Urgent Care

It's important to note that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are made with sophisticated mRNA technology, and the components can be altered relatively quickly, says Rosemary Olivero, M.D. head of the pediatric infectious disease program at Helen DeVos Children's Hospital. "The hope is that if there needs to be [more adjustments to the vaccines in the future], it can be done."

Should We Take New Precautions to Stay Safe?

To protect against the new COVID-19 strain, it's important to stay diligent as a family. Keep practicing social distancing, wearing masks, and washing your hands often.

"The increased transmissibility of this variant requires an even more rigorous combined implementation of vaccination and mitigation measures (e.g., distancing, masking, and hand hygiene) to control the spread of SARS-CoV-2," says the CDC. These measures can help slow the spread of the coronavirus—especially when paired with vaccinations, which are currently being distributed across the country.  

"There's a light at the end of the tunnel," encourages Dr. Kenkare. She stresses that we should keep taking precautions until public health officials say otherwise.