While the new, more contagious strain of COVID-19 that was first identified in the United Kingdom hasn't been officially reported in Illinois, the state's top doctor said Monday the strain is likely already present and could become dominant in just months.
At a news conference alongside Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, Dr. Ngozi Ezike, the director of the state's Department of Public Health, warned of more infectious spread as early as March, which is when she said the majority of COVID-19 cases could be from the new variant.
The British variant was first detected in September, World Health Organization officials previously announced. Since then, cases have skyrocketed across the U.K., resulting in Prime Minister Boris Johnson's decision to impose a national lockdown.
Unlike when the virus first surfaced in the U.K., Ezike said, Illinois officials are aware the new strain "is brewing."
"Therefore we have the opportunity to use that information and make better choices around the mitigation...around avoiding gatherings so that we can get as many people vaccinated...before this variant inevitably takes over," she warned.
Ezike emphasized that the strain hasn't been identified, because it's probably circulating at such low numbers. In Indiana, health officials there confirmed the existence of the strain Monday.
The U.K. variant is one of two new contagious viral strains that have recently emerged, the CDC said in a telebriefing late last month. While evidence to date does not indicate either appears to result in more severe infections or higher death rates, the CDC's COVID-19 incident manager, Dr. Henry Walke, did warn that the heightened ease of transmission could translate to many more cases.