Spread of COVID-19 variants worries NJ, NY officials

The concern is growing in New York and New Jersey over the presence of coronavirus variants of interest or viral mutations, making it that much harder to put this pandemic behind us.

"The more people vaccinated, the less likely you're going to end up with variants so I encourage everyone to get vaccinated," New York state Health Commissioner Howard Zucker said.

In New Jersey, there have been roughly 400 reports of variants of concern. Most of which are of the U.K. strain, three are the Brazilian strain, one is the South African strain, and roughly 65 are the New York strain, according to New Jersey Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli. New Jersey's seven-day case average has jumped more than 10% from the previous week.

"Six to eight weeks ago, we started saying 'but for the variants' we would be taking more steps sooner," New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said. "But we are seeing that play out."

The variants are the reason why Murphy is urging caution when reopening, suggesting the reopening process should pause at 50% capacity, for now.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio agrees.

"Let's stay at the level we are at now and not have any further expansion until we get a lot more info about these variants and see how we do," de Blasio said.

The question is: Can the vaccines help?

"Right now, we're sort of in a race between vaccines and variants," Dr. Stephanie Silvera said.

Silvera, a public health professor at Montclair State University, said she believes in the power of vaccines but is concerned about the vaccines' effectiveness against the variants and the and variants' transmissibility.

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