A variant strain of COVID-19 has been discovered and may be spreading throughout New York and the northeastern United States, researchers said. The coronavirus variant, called B.1.526, has been around since November.
The strain was named in two separate preprint reports this week — one released on February 23 was authored by researchers at the California Institute of Technology, and one released on February 24 came from Columbia University. Preprint reports have not been peer reviewed.
Researchers found the variant in one of its two forms may pose some resistance to the COVID-19 vaccine and that the second form may be more contagious. However, cases of COVID-19 continue to decline both in New York and nationwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Here’s what you need to know about B.1.526:
B.1.526 Has Been Reported in Westchester, Bronx, Queens, Manhattan and Brooklyn
The variant strain of the coronavirus, B.1.526, has been reported in some of the most populous areas of New York: Westchester, Bronx, Queens, Manhattan and Brooklyn. The variant first emerged in samples taken in November. Now, it accounts for more than a quarter of the coronavirus cases reported in the state, according to The New York Times. Columbia University researchers also found the “B.1.526 variant is scattered in the Northeast of US.”
“So it seems to be widespread. It’s not a single outbreak,” Dr. David Ho, director of the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center, told the New York Times.
According to the preprint report from California Institute of Technology, the variant has two forms. One form has the E484K spike mutation, which may help the virus evade antibodies and means it could be resistant to vaccines. The other form has the S477N mutation, which may help the virus bind more tightly to human cells, meaning it “has been implicated to increase viral infectivity.”
The Columbia University preprint report said the research team discovered a rise of about 12% in mutations including E484K over the past two weeks. Most of those were within the B.1.526 lineage.
Researchers Said the Variant Was ‘Surging Alarmingly,’ But COVID-19 Cases Are Still Declining
Columbia University researchers said older adults seem to be more susceptible to the B.1.526 strain, and that those who contract it are more frequently hospitalized, according to their preprint report.
“Patients with this novel variant came from diverse neighborhoods in the metropolitan area, and they were on average older and more frequently hospitalized,” researchers wrote in the report.
“It is this novel variant that is surging, alarmingly, in our patient population over the past few weeks,” they added.
A total of three variants of the coronavirus, which are being tracked by the CDC, have been reported in New York. The others are B.1.1.7, the “U.K. variant,” which was first reported in the United States toward the end of 2020, and B.1.351, the “South Africa variant,” which was reported in the United States at the end of January 2021. The B.1.1.7 variant is believed to be more contagious, and the B.1.351 may pose some resistance to vaccines.
Despite the emerging variants, New York COVID-19 case numbers are declining, and the state’s positivity rate was the lowest it had been since November 21, 2020, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced February 24.
He said in a statement:
“New Yorkers have shown courage and fortitude in the face of this unprecedented pandemic, and it’s thanks to them that we’re seeing a decline in hospitalizations and in the COVID positivity rate. The vaccine is the light at the end of the tunnel and we’re continuing to aggressively expand our statewide network of distribution sites, but we need more supply to thoroughly vaccinate the population and begin our transition to a post-pandemic world. That means that until we have enough supply, New Yorkers should continue practicing the safe behaviors that have made such a difference fighting in this virus so far—wash your hands, wear a mask, practice social distancing and stay safe.”