Health officials are urging Americans to not let their guards down against COVID-19 as researchers discover new variants that may already be more transmissible and could also be somewhat resistant to the vaccine.
“At this level of cases, with variants spreading, we stand to completely lose the hard-earned ground we have gained,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said during a White House briefing Monday. “These variants are a very real threat to our people and our progress.”
While experts have been following variants first identified in the United Kingdom and South Africa, they're also seeing red flags in other variants discovered closer to home in Brazil, New York and California.
In Monday’s briefing, Dr. Anthony Fauci said a recent study found some COVID-19 treatments may not be as effective against the new variant discovered in New York.
“It’s a theoretical, but it can be a real issue,” the nation’s top infectious diseases expert said.
Here's what's known about the newer emerging variants and why health experts are worried about them:
The P.1 variant first identified in Brazil
A variant that originated in Brazil – called P.1 – was first reported in late January by the National Institute of Infectious Diseases in Japan after four travelers from Brazil were screened at an airport outside of Tokyo.
The variant has 17 unique mutations, including three in the virus’s spiked protein, according to the CDC. As of Sunday, the CDC reported 10 cases of the P.1 variant in five U.S. states: Alaska, Florida, Oklahoma, Minnesota and Maryland. The agency has designated it a "variant of concern."
The B.1.526 variant first identified in New York
Another mutated version of the coronavirus – called B.1.526 – popped up in New York City in late November and has since cropped up in neighboring states.
By Jan. 2021, the variant represented about 3% of samples analyzed by researchers, rising to 12.3% by mid-February, according to a study by scientists at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons that has yet to be peer-reviewed.
More on COVID variants:Data suggests AstraZeneca's vaccine may not protect against variant discovered in South Africa
Scientists have identified 16 cases of another new variant of coronavirus in the UK.
Public Health England has designated it as a 'variant under investigation' (VUI), meaning it is on their watch list, but not one they are immediately concerned about.
It has a mutation in common with the South Africa and Brazil variants.
That change, E484K, may help the virus evade some immunity from vaccination or prior infection, experts believe.
The cases were first identified on 15 February by the UK's variant surveillance system.
Experts suspect it originated in the UK.
All 16 individuals who tested positive, and their contacts, have been traced and advised to isolate.
PHE said the cases were geographically spread across the UK. And it confirmed that surge or mass testing would not be necessary - this is only done for variants of concern (VOC), such as the Brazil one.
Hunt continues for Brazil variant
Most recently, officials have been trying to track down a person in England known to have been infected with the Brazil VOC.
Provided by the BBC