HOUSTON — Monday night, the CDC announced the Brazil variant of COVID-19 was now in the United States, too. This time the strain was detected in Minnesota in a U.S. patient who had recently returned from Brazil.
Experts say chances are high it's already here, too.
"I think we have to assume that not only do we have the UK, South Africa, and now the Brazil variant, they're all here," said Dr. Peter Hotez.
Hotez says the various strains are far more contagious, but not more deadly. Their emergence coming at the worst possible time when COVID cases are starting to slow.
"I think that is going to be short lived," said Hotez. "As new variants start taking over the numbers are going to go way back up again."
A more transmissible virus means normal activities like going out to a store or restaurant become even riskier.
"You just have to assume that every person you see could be transmitting the COVID-19 virus," said Hotez.
Hotez says the pace of mutations have surprised scientists, and he expects new strains to continue to be detected around the world.
"The virus is telling us this is what it's going to do," said Hotez. "New variants will emerge and in a few weeks we'll be talking about the Texas variant."
For now vaccines appear to still be effective against the Brazil strain, but the more the virus mutates, the sooner vaccines could be crippled.
"If we allow this to continue, variants will emerge that are completely resistant to the vaccines," said Hotez.
It's why Hotez says it's critical the U.S. ramp up vaccinations on a massive scale. In a Washington Post op-ed piece, he's calling on the Biden team to work to vaccinate 3 million people a day for any chance of getting back to normal by the summer.
"We've got to pick up the pace, the pace is just too slow," said Hotez.