Spread of U.K. COVID Variant May Bring More Death: Biden's CDC Director Rochelle Walensky

The spread of a new COVID variant from the U.K. may bring with it more cases and more deaths, according to Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the incoming director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for the Biden administration.

Walensky, who is the chief of infectious diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital, told CBS' Face the Nation that the new variant of COVID from the U.K. appears to be better at spreading.

The variant, named B.1.1.7, is not thought to make people sicker or be more deadly than previous forms of the coronavirus. However, the virus is thought to be up to 70 percent more transmissible.

"What increased transmissibility means is there are more cases and therefore more deaths," said Walensky.

There is no indication that it "evades" vaccines, she said.

Walensky made the comments after the CDC said B.1.1.7 may become the dominant form of coronavirus in the U.S. by March. The agency said 76 cases involving the variant had been detected in 10 U.S. states as of January 13. On Sunday, Massachusetts became the latest state to confirm it had found the variant.

The variant is thought to have made a bad situation worse in the U.K., prompting the government to enforce a third national lockdown to prevent hospitals from collapsing.

B.1.1.7 is not the only coronavirus variant causing concern among experts. Walensky said investigations are ongoing into separate variants from South Africa, Brazil and Nigeria.

Earlier this month, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Dr. Anthony Fauci told Newsweek the South Africa variant was likely already spreading undetected in the U.S., and B.1.1.7 was more widespread in the country than previously thought.

There is concern that the South African and Brazilian variants, as well as others in the future, may become resistance to certain antibody treatments, "not taking off all efficacy, but decreasing their efficacy," she said.

Walensky said: "We've known for a long time that viruses mutate. It's not just coronavirus, it's many viruses and they mutate when they're under pressure. There is a lot of pressure right now because there's a lot of virus circulating out there, especially in this country."

According to The COVID Tracking Project, the U.S. reported more than 186,000 new coronavirus infections on Sunday, over 124,000 people were hospitalized with COVID, and 2,044 deaths were reported. The number of new cases per million people is dropping in many parts of the country, but is still the highest it has been for the entirety of the pandemic.

Our daily update is published. States reported 1.8M tests, 186k cases, 124,387 people currently hospitalized with COVID-19, and 2,044 deaths. pic.twitter.com/xIN0q9Pa7c

— The COVID Tracking Project (@COVID19Tracking) January 17, 2021
Rochelle Walensky, cdc, getty
Rochelle Walensky, who will serve as the CDC director under the Biden administration, is pictured at The Queen in Wilmington, Delaware on December 8, 2020. Walensky has commented on the new variants of COVID. JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images