Scientists are raising concerns that new genetic strains of SARS-CoV-2 will spark renewed outbreaks in the United States at a time when cases are already spiking. 

Records numbers — around 4,000 people — are dying per day from COVID-19 in the U.S., and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has predicted that fully 92,000 more will die within the next three weeks. The fast-spreading B.1.1.7 coronavirus variant may add fuel to the fire, experts say. 

“I’m very, very concerned that we’ve now gone from a virus that we could control to a virus that we really can’t, unless we do something very dramatic,” infectious disease expert Kristian Andersen, of the Scripps Research Institute, told medical news outlet STAT

The new variant, one of the many that normally occur over time in viruses, was first noted in Britain and is now being detected throughout Europe and in the United States. It seems to be much faster spreading — possibly 70% faster — than earlier strains. But it does not appear to cause worse symptoms or higher mortality. 

In the U.S., it was first detected in December in a Colorado nursing home, and has since popped up in other states. A new, apparently homegrown version of the strain also has reportedly been found circulating in Ohio.

Meanwhile, the process of getting long-term care residents and staff fully vaccinated is showing signs of stress at the local level, despite months of federal planning. Nevertheless, federal officials say that vaccinations have begun to speed up in the onsite LTC facility clinics run by CVS Health and Walgreens, and have projected that 95% of first doses would be completed in the Phase 1a group in the next two weeks. 

The National Institutes of Health and British researchers are conducting ongoing investigations into how various new strains hold up against available coronavirus vaccines and monoclonal antibody treatments in the lab. The current vaccines are expected to be able to neutralize the virus, experts said.