New variants of COVID-19 has been found in several states throughout the United States, with more than 130 cases reported in New York as of Feb. 25.
The most dominant strain in the state, with 136 reported cases, is known as the B.1.1.7 variant or VOC 202012/01. It was originally reported in the United Kingdom in Dec. 2020, and is estimated to have emerged three months earlier. It became the predominant variant in March, with more than 1,000 cases reported in the U.S and more than 7,000 around the world.
A second strain, a variant emerging from South Africa known as B.1.351, has had its second confirmed case in New York as of Feb 25.
B.1.1.7 is characterized an increase of transmissibility by almost 50% and the possibility of increasing the risk of death, although more studies are needed to confirm this. Alternate new strains, including B.1.351, share a mutation with B.1.1.7 that reportedly help it to spread faster. Although it is unknown whether the B.1.351 strain impacts virus severity, evidence suggest it could impact antibody neutralization.
“The U.K. strain is here, it is real, and the Usain Bolt-like speed through which it spreads is nothing short of frightening,” New York Governor Cuomo said during a Jan. 9 announcement of three new variant cases at the time.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is actively tracking variant cases through genomic surveillance, primarily through the National SARS-CoV-2 Strain Surveillance (NS3) system. NS3 takes samples provided by state health departments and similar agencies to properly characterize and evaluate emerging cases in the US. The system was scaled up in late January and now processes 750 samples weekly.
The NS3 system requires biweekly reports from state public laboratories. This includes providing confirmed, de identified and diagnostic specimens, as well as standardized metadata on a selection of five COVID-19 cases.
New York saw a spike in hospitalizations in January. New York City, the Mid Hudson area and Long Island are the leading regions in COVID-19 infection rates, each with more than 4% of tested persons receiving positive results.