A Doomsday COVID Variant Worse Than Delta and Lambda May Be Coming, Scientists Say
Scientists keep underestimating the coronavirus. In the beginning of the pandemic, they said mutated versions of the virus wouldn't be much of a problem—until the more-infectious Alpha caused a spike in cases last fall. Then Beta made young people sicker and Gamma reinfected those who'd already recovered from COVID-19. Still, by March, as the winter surge in the U.S. receded, some epidemiologists were cautiously optimistic that the rapid vaccine rollout would soon tame the variants and cause the pandemic to wind down.
Delta has now shattered that optimism. This variant, first identified in India in December, spreads faster than any previous strain of SARS-CoV-2, as the COVID-19 virus is officially named. It is driving up infection rates in every state of the U.S., prompting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to once again recommend universal mask-wearing.
The Delta outbreak is going to get much worse, warns Michael Osterholm, an epidemiologist who leads the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. "The number of intensive-care beds needed could be higher than any time we've seen," he says. He adds that his team's analysis shows that almost every single one of the 100 million unvaccinated Americans who hasn't had COVID-19 yet will likely get it in the coming months, short of taking the sort of strong isolation and masking precautions that seem unlikely in the vaccine-hesitant population.