Over the last few weeks, public health officials have grown increasingly concerned about multiple new strains of SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, underscoring how the stakes couldn’t be higher in the race to vaccinate Americans against the disease.
One variant, known as B.1.1.7, was first discovered in the United Kingdom in September and was accounting for more than 60% of new cases there by December, Johns Hopkins researchers noted. Other notable strains have been detected in South Africa and Brazil.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has begun tracking the new variants with an interactive map and data tables. The information, which is regularly updated, currently includes a state-by-state breakdown of three separate strains:
- B.1.1.7 (aka the U.K. strain)
- B.1.351 (aka the South Africa strain)
- P.1 (aka the Brazil strain)
As of Monday, the identified case counts of these new variants are low in states where they’ve been detected. Only California and Florida had more than 100. But the CDC points out that these numbers, which are based on identified positive specimens, do not tell the whole story of how many true cases are circulating. As the Wall Street Journal reports, labs are now working overtime to ramp-up genomic sequencing techniques that would lead to more reliable tracking.
All viruses mutate, and research is still underway to determine the extent to which these newer variants may be more transmissible or whether they are more likely to cause severe forms of COVID-19. The good news is, vaccines are still likely to offer protection against emerging variants, even if they’re less effective against some of the newer strains.
The CDC says its map will be updated on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays.