(CNSNews.com) - The more contagious coronavirus mutation known as B-117, first reported in the United Kingdom, now accounts for 26 percent of the virus circulating in the United States, the director of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Wednesday.
"B-117, we know from our most recent data, is about 26 percent of circulating virus right now," CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky told a news conference.
And it is the predominant strain in at least five regions of the United States, so we're starting to see it creep up. We do know it's more transmissible, somewhere between 50 and 70 percent more transmissible, than the wild type strain [wild type is the non-mutated form of the virus]. So to the extent that people are not practicing the standard mitigation strategies, we do think that more infections will result because of B-117.
We believe that the current mitigation strategies of masking and distancing would work just as well against the current wild type strain as they do the B-117 strain. I think we've been pretty clear with regard to our guidance and--and strategies and setting specific strategies as to how people can remain safe in these settings. And we continue to articulate in these practice conferences and others the importance of masking, distancing, not traveling, and decreasing crowds.
In January 2021, experts in the UK reported that the B-117 variant may be associated with an increased risk of death compared to other variant viruses, but more studies are needed to confirm this finding, the CDC said. The UK variant was first detected in the U.S. at the end of December.
Dr. Anthony Fauci told the same news conference that vaccination "is not only going to protect us against the wild type, but it has the potential, to a greater or lesser degree, to also protect against a range of variants. So when vaccination becomes available, get vaccinated," he said.
Walensky said CDC's most recent data shows the seven-day average of new coronavirus cases (all types) is "slightly less than 62,000 cases per day." That's almost a 12 percent increase from the prior seven-day period, she said.
"Hospitalizations also continued to increase. She said the most recent seven-day average is about 4,900 admissions a day, up from 4,600 admissions a day in the prior seven-day period. And the seven-day average of deaths remain slightly above 900 deaths per day.
Walensky continued to stress that in this "critical moment," we "can't afford to let our guard down."
She noted that COVID-19 has disproportionately affected certain groups in the United States, "particularly Blacks, Hispanic and Latino, and Native American communities, all of which have shown a drop in life expectancy -- 2.7 years for non-Hispanic Blacks and 1.9 years for Hispanics.
COVID-19 is now 3rd leading cause of death
The CDC on Wednesday released a report based on provisional mortality data showing that the COVID-19 pandemic caused approximately 375,000 deaths in the United States out of the approximately 3,358,814 deaths recorded during 2020.
"COVID-19 was the third leading cause of death, and the COVID-19 death rate was highest among Hispanics," the report said.
COVID-19 was listed as the underlying cause of 345,323 deaths during 2020 and was the third leading underlying cause of death, after heart disease (690,882 deaths) and cancer (598,932 deaths).
Rounding out the top ten underlying causes of death in descending order were unintentional injury, stroke, chronic lower respiratory disease, Alzheimer's, diabetes, influenza and pneumonia, and kidney disease.
CDC says COVID replaced suicide as one of the top ten leading causes of death in 2020.
The highest numbers of overall deaths and COVID-19 deaths occurred in April and December.