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New COVID-19 strain found in U.K. may be "already here" in U.S., doctor warns

Concerns over new coronavirus variant
Looming questions over U.K. variant of coronavirus 10:45

A new strain of the coronavirus that's been spreading rapidly in the United Kingdom may already be here in the United States, doctors are warning. The variant in the U.K. has spurred at least 40 countries to close their borders to the island nation.

"We have had people coming from the U.K. for the past few weeks, so why would this virus not jump on the plane with everybody in their blood and in their respiratory secretions?" Dr. Dyan Hes, a pediatrician in New York City, said Tuesday on CBSN.

World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a press conference Monday that the strain has been reported to be more infectious than the first, though there is no evidence it is any more deadly. 

Experts including Dr. Anthony Fauci agree the new variant of the virus is likely already within our nation's borders.

"When you have this amount of spread within a place like the U.K., that you really need to assume that it's here already," Fauci said Tuesday on "Good Morning America." "It may not, and certainly it's not the dominant strain, but I would not be surprised at all if it was already here."

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said Monday that British Airways, Delta and Virgin Atlantic have all voluntarily agreed to test travelers coming from the U.K. for coronavirus before flights depart for the state. Cuomo also called on the federal government to impose further restrictions.

"I don't think a travel ban would be the worst thing," Dr. Hes said. "The truth is, we really shouldn't be traveling abroad unless it's an emergency."

However, Fauci said a travel ban would be a "draconian" measure.

"There is certain consideration throughout about the possibility, and maybe the likelihood, of requiring the testing of individuals before they board a plane to the United States," Fauci explained. "That's a big difference, [rather] than just completely shutting off and banning travel completely, which is really rather dramatic steps."

Biden warns "darkest days" of pandemic are still ahead 02:50

Nearly 120 countries have imposed a requirement that U.K. travelers have a negative test before boarding a flight from the country.

On the issue of COVID-19 testing for Americans who want it, according to Hes, the U.S. is not where it needs to be.

"The tests are only going to big chains," she said. "We need more tests to be sent to us, and we need them to be affordable."

Speaking from her own personal experience, Hes said she bought four Abbott Labs testing machines for her medical practice in August. Since then she said she has only been able to run 48 tests, which is all the supplies she could get a hold of.

"This is why the spread is going to go on ... Doctors are dying to do the tests and we cannot even get enough to get it done," she said.

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