COVID-19 variant discovered in New York City causes fear and concern


Jim Henderson | Wikipedia Commons

Rachel Dalloo

A new COVID-19 variant that shares worrisome similarities with other mutations is rising rapidly in New York City.

The mutation, which has been labeled as B.1.526 by scientists, had first appeared in New York back in November and it is now causing great concerns that it “may weaken the effectiveness of vaccines,” according to The New York Times.

Two separate studies were conducted by researchers at the California Institute of Technology and at Columbia University after they appeared in samples collected.

Researchers at Caltech discovered the COVID-19 mutation by “scanning for mutations in hundreds of thousands of viral genetic sequences” through a computer database called the Global Initiative on Sharing Avian Influenza Data.

“There was a pattern that was recurring, and a group of isolates concentrated in the New York region that I hadn’t seen,” Anthony West, a computational biologist at Caltech, said.

The variant has also been found in 14 other states, including some parts of New Jersey. Since November, 735 confirmed cases in the United States involved the New York variant, with 585 cases discovered in the past two weeks, as stated by Bloomberg.

Despite the presence of the New York variant, health officials are still more concerned about the South African and United Kingdom variants that pose a more serious threat to many individuals.

The current vaccines that are being made available to the general public are thought to be effective against any current or future strains of the virus. City health officials have stated that by continuing to follow existing mandates like mask-wearing, socially distancing, washing hands and staying home, people can stay protected against the more transmissible strains, according to NBC New York.

Health and disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci acknowledged that genetic sequencing has not reached the certain level that health organizations are looking for when it comes to tracking and identifying a COVID-19 strain.

“But the CDC is really ramping up a lot, much more than we had previously, to get a much greater percentage of the isolates,” Fauci said.

“We start sequencing them, put them in a common data bank so that we could really determine what the pattern of prevalence or not of a particular variant. They’ve really accelerated considerably over the last several weeks.”

The emergence of the New York strain is under close review under the Biden administration. During a press conference on March 1, Dr. Fauci stated the strain “most likely” started in Washington Heights in Manhattan before spreading to other boroughs, as stated by CNBC.

Back in December, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the launching of the NYC Vaccine for All Campaign. The campaign aims to help spread the word in more than 16 languages to media networks and organizations regarding the free vaccines that are available in the city. The rollout for the campaign started in January.

“Finally, hope has finally arrived in New York City,” de Blasio said. “We are launching a massive vaccination campaign at breakneck speed, guaranteeing that a vaccine will be safe, free, and easy to get for all New Yorkers.”

At the end of January, de Blasio announced that the next phase of the campaign will use an expanded list, which includes 33 neighborhoods, to increase the outreach of the program and ensure that residents have more access to the COVID-19 vaccines, according to the Mayor’s website.