Mar 13, 2021 - Health

Infectious diseases expert: COVID variants are a "whole new ballgame"

Michael Osterholm speaking at the University of Minnesota in St. Paul in April 2020.
Michael Osterholm speaking at the University of Minnesota in St. Paul in April 2020. Photo: Glen Stubbe/Star Tribune via Getty Images

The U.S. is playing a "whole new ballgame" in terms of controlling the coronavirus now that variants are spreading across the country, Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, told CBS News on Friday.

Why it matters: Osterholm said the U.S. could face another surge from the B.1.1.7 variant, which was first identified in the United Kingdom and has since been detected throughout the U.S. Multiple studies have suggested that it likely spreads more easily than the original strain of the virus.

What they're saying: "We are, I think for the moment, in the eye of a hurricane with regard to the good news, the vaccine's coming, but the big challenge [is] with this new variant that has arrived here from Europe," Osterholm told CBS News.

  • "But beyond that, it's all going to be about the variants and the vaccine, and that will determine where we're going to be next year, the year after, and the year after that."
  • Osterholm predicted that between now and the time the U.S. can vaccinate more of its population "we're going to see this B.1.1.7 surge occur."

The big picture: His warning comes as multiple states across the country relax or roll back their coronavirus restrictions.

Go deeper: Europe's new coronavirus spike is a warning to the U.S.

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