TEMPE, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -- Researchers say we are now in a race to obtain herd immunity faster than the new coronavirus variants can spread. Last week the U.K. variant was discovered in Arizona through COVID-19 testing and sequencing conducted by Arizona State University researchers.

Dr. Joshua LaBaer, Executive Director of ASU's Biodesign Institute, described Wednesday how the three people who tested positive for the variant likely picked up the new strain.

"At least one looked like it was community transmission, and the others looked like they may have been from travel," said LaBaer.

LaBaer had some good news. He shared a COVID-19 modeling update that shows numbers will continue to decline, including infections, hospitalizations, and daily case counts. If the U.K. variant has an impact on the numbers, LaBaer said, researchers will spot the problem by watching trend lines very closely.

"For a long time, they are kind of flat. They don't look like they're growing that fast," said LaBaer. "But if you do the actual math, you can see they're spreading exponentially, and then suddenly they just take off."

Right now, researchers are not seeing any alarming numbers associated with the variant. Anyone one of the more-transmissible variants detected around the world, LaBaer said, could sabotage efforts to vaccinate our way out of the pandemic. LaBaer said estimates that up to 70-percent of people need to be vaccinated in order to stop spread are based on the original coronavirus strain.

"With this more transmissible strain, we would have to achieve a higher number of people vaccinated to prevent spread," said LaBaer.


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