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'It may already be here' | Expert warns new UK strain of COVID-19 likely in U.S.

Infectious disease expert Dr. Peter Hotez says the U.S. is lagging behind other countries in how it looks for and detects virus mutations.

HOUSTON — Millions of Americans ignored health warnings and traveled for the holidays and now experts are bracing for a surge upon a surge. 

"It means we're going to continue to see people get infected, and we'll still see surges in our ICU's death rates will continue to skyrocket," said Dr. Peter Hotez. 

And it could get even worse as a new more contagious, but not more deadly variant of the coronavirus first seen in the UK is spreading across the globe. It's shown up in France, Australia, Japan, Sweden, Spain and even Canada. 

"I'm concerned about it in the U.S.," said Hotez. "It may already be here and it may be a significant reason why we've seen so much transmission as of late."

Hotez says the U.S. simply isn't looking for new strains as much as we should especially compared to other countries, and the U.S. is falling behind.

"The fact we've underperformed yet again really disturbs me quite a bit," said Hotez. 

Concerns over this new strain building as COVID-19 vaccinations ramp up. Experts hopeful the vaccines will also be effective against this new strain. Testing underway right now. 

"I think we'll be okay for these variants, but after a few months, a year or two, other variants may come along where we may not be so lucky," said Hotez. 

Houston's Health and Fire Departments received 3,000 doses each of the Moderna vaccine Monday morning. 

"It's the beginning of the end," said Dr. David Persse. 

Persse says its critical the public gets vaccinated as soon as they're able. 

"Now's not the time to rest on our laurels, this is a time to jump on this opportunity aggressively and if you can get vaccinated, get vaccinated," said Persse. 

But until that happens, with the threat of this new strain and increased transmission. Mayor Sylvester Turner is pleading with folks to continue to socially distance. 

"Let's not gather in large numbers for New Year's," said Mayor Sylvester Turner. "Let's celebrate differently, but let's do it safely."