NYC variant is a concern but doesn't change response, officials say

Mayor Bill de Blasio on Thursday acknowledged that New Yorkers may be worried about the news of a new variant of the virus that causes COVID-19 could be spreading in the city.

"Understandable people hear 'variant,' it is a cause for concern, of course," de Blasio said. "And there is something about it that's unknown and that gets people worried, I don't blame anyone for feeling that."

Preliminary Studies

The New York Times reported that a new COVID-19 variant has been identified separately by two research groups — one at Caltech and another at Columbia University

The report found that this strain, called B.1.526, which was first detected in November, is spreading rapidly through New York City. The report also stated that the strain accounted for about one in four viral sequences that appeared in a shared scientific database just this month.

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"We noticed that there was a pattern of mutations in a set of sequences from New York that was different from the known variants," Caltech's Dr. Anthony West said.

It's not yet known if the variant is more contagious, deadly, or if it impacts COVID vaccines. The city's top doctors are urging New Yorkers to focus now on getting their shots, which they believe have helped protect people against different strains of the virus.

The City's Response

"Right now, at least for the report that we hear from Columbia, we just are considering this a variant of interest, something that is interesting that we need to follow and track," Dr. Jay Varma, the city's senior advisor for public health, said on Thursday. "But it doesn't change anything about our public health concern. We need more data and studies to understand that." 

The mayor wants to reassure New Yorkers that we've been seeing a decrease in the trajectory of COVID cases, and at this point, there's no evidence that this latest variant is prevalent in any specific parts of the city.

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"Until there is evidence that tells us a variance is not handled well by a vaccine, for example, or has different impacts, we shouldn't assume the worst," de Blasio said.

It is important to note that the studies from Caltech and Columbia have not been peer-reviewed or published in a scientific journal yet.

Health experts suggest getting your vaccination as soon as you're eligible and keep following safety protocols.

What Are Variants?

Researchers and health authorities have documented several variants of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, over the course of the pandemic.

"Viruses constantly change through mutation, and new variants of a virus are expected to occur over time," CDC states. "Sometimes new variants emerge and disappear. Other times, new variants emerge and persist."

What We Need to Learn

The challenge, according to CDC, is for scientists to study these newer variants to determine how widely they've spread, how the disease they cause is different from the disease caused by other variants, and how they may affect therapies, vaccines, and tests.

With FOX 5 NY Staff