“Variants represent a growing threat to the health and security of our nation, and right now the U.S. is lagging behind other countries in tracking new and emerging variants of this deadly virus,” Baldwin said in a press release on Feb. 4 announcing the legislation.
But the spread of B117 threatens to outrun efforts to track it.
“It’s going to end up becoming a major player in COVID-19 cases in Wisconsin and nationally,” Pothoff said.
Health officials have warned that the new variant could undo the progress made in the state since the November surge, when rampant spread pushed case numbers up to nine times what they are today. Scientists estimate that the variant spreads up to 50% faster than the strain that has so far infected nearly 28 million Americans and killed almost half a million.
A British study suggests the variant could boost the COVID-19 death rate by 35%.
So far 1,277 cases of the B117 variant have been reported in 42 states, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention variant tracking site.
The numbers are far lower for other worrisome variants. A South African variant known as B135, which is less susceptible to vaccines, has been reported in 19 instances. And a fast-spreading Brazilian variant, known as P1, has been detected in three COVID-19 infections, two of them in Minnesota. Scientists worry that both variants could evade natural immunity from COVID-19 infections and set off another deadly wave.