By Sheryl Gay Stolberg
A highly infectious variant of the coronavirus that was first identified in Britain has now become the most common source of new infections in the United States, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday — a worrisome development that comes as officials and scientists warn of a fourth possible virus surge.
Federal health officials said in January that the B.1.1.7 variant, which began surging in Britain in December and has since slammed Europe, could become the dominant source of coronavirus infections in United States, leading to a wrenching increase in cases and deaths.
While new cases, hospitalizations and deaths have declined from their peaks in January, new infections have increased after plateauing. Further progress in reducing new cases has stalled, hospitalizations have leveled off and deaths remain near an average of about 800 a day, according to a New York Times database.
The average number of new cases has reached nearly 65,000 a day, as of Tuesday, concentrated mostly in metro areas in Michigan as well as the New York City region. That’s up 19 percent compared with the figure two weeks ago.
The C.D.C. director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, who last week warned that she felt a recurring sense of “impending doom,” said on Wednesday that 52 of the agency’s 64 jurisdictions — which include states, some major cities and territories — are now reporting cases of “variants of concern,” including B.1.1.7.
That variant has been found to be most prevalent in Michigan, Florida, Colorado, California, Minnesota and Massachusetts, according to the C.D.C. Until recently, the variant’s rise was somewhat camouflaged by falling rates of infection over all, lulling Americans into a false sense of security and leading to prematurely relaxed restrictions, researchers say.
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