(KTTC) -- The United States is on the cusp of fourth COVID-19 peak. That's the message Friday from the country's top health experts -- if the nation doesn't hunker down and take the pandemic seriously.
Specifically, it's the quickly spreading variants that are sounding alarm bells this time.
"It is starting to spread in the U.S.," University of Minnesota Infectious Disease Research and Policy Director Dr. Michael Osterholm said. "It's doubling every seven to 10 days."
Dr. Osterholm names the U.K. variant, or the B117 variant, as the one to watch; saying a peak could come as early as mid-March.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the B117 variant currently accounts for 10% of U.S. cases. That's up from anywhere between one and four percent a few weeks ago.
"We may be done with the virus, but clearly the virus is not done with us," CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in Friday's White House COVID-19 briefing.
She adds that the variant is proven to be more than 50 percent more contagious than the original strain. Dr. Osterholm echoes this concern and alarm sounding as states loosen restrictions.
"We're opening up America like it hasn't been opened up since March," he said. "There will be a lot of people who don't want to hear this. They will be angry. But in fact, if we look at what's happened in Europe, in the Middle East, unless they were locked down, they could not control that virus. So, how are we going to pivot, quickly, from opening everything and saying, 'wait a minute, that's not the answer.' And we just are going to have to prepare the public for that. We are up against the virus. We are not up against public policy."
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci says this variant could become the overwhelming strain by the end of March -- if the public gives it the chance to.
"Viruses will not mutate if you don't give them the opportunity to spread and replicate," Dr. Fauci said.
"We cannot get comfortable or give into a false sense of security that the worst part of the virus is behind us," Dr. Walensky echoed. "Not now, when mass vaccination is so very close."
There are other variants out there -- Dr. Fauci has spoken about strain in California and New York. Right now. health officials say the U.K strain is the most threatening.
Dr. Fauci says one way the country can fight theses new strains is by developing vaccines directly targeted at the strain. Adding that Moderna is entering into a clinical trial for a booster targeted at the variant strain.