This Coronavirus Variant Has Now Been Detected in 15 U.S. States

A new coronavirus variant first detected in New York has now appeared in several other states. And there are now more than 700 cases of this coronavirus variant—also called B.1.526—in the U.S. to date, Bloomberg reported.

The new variant was first detected back in November in New York, according to two recent pre-print studies (meaning these studies have not completed the peer review process). Now there have been 735 cases of B.1.526 identified in New York and 14 other states, including New Jersey as well as Texas, Maryland, and Wyoming, Gregory Armstrong, M.D., director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advanced Molecular Detection Program, told Bloomberg. 

The particular variant contains one worrying mutation in particular, called E484K. According to lab studies, this mutation can allow the virus to more easily outmaneuver the body’s natural protective immune response, the antibody therapies we have available for COVID-19, and, potentially, the COVID-19 vaccines, SELF explained previously. The E484K mutation was previously identified in B.1.351 (the variant first detected in South Africa) and later in a few cases of B.1.1.7 (the variant first identified in the U.K.).

“It’s something we take very, very seriously,” Anthony Fauci, M.D. director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, said in a press briefing this week. “We have to really keep an eye on it for its ability to evade both monoclonal antibody, and to a certain extent, the vaccine-induced antibody.” 

However, experts say the vaccines we have available now are likely to still provide significant protection against the new variant. “People who have recovered from the coronavirus or who have been vaccinated are very likely to be able to fight this variant off, there’s no doubt about that,” Michel Nussenzweig, M.D., Ph.D., an immunologist at the Rockefeller University, told the New York Times. But “they may get a little bit sick from it.”

So what can you do to protect yourself from this and other coronavirus variants? Experts say the best way to stay safe is to keep doing the things we’ve been told to do all along, including wearing a well-fitting multilayered mask, staying socially distanced, avoiding crowds, and getting a COVID-19 vaccine when possible, SELF explained previously. 

It may also help to know that, as public health officials in the U.S. ramp up their genetic-sequencing efforts, we will be able to keep better tabs on the variants that are out there now—and detect new ones more quickly. But the most helpful thing we can do to keep our communities safe is to slow the spread of COVID-19 and, therefore, give the virus as few opportunities to mutate as possible.