The South African coronavirus variant has now been identified in New York City, health officials said Tuesday — as they gave an update on the various mutations now spreading through the Big Apple.
“With the number of New Yorkers who are being vaccinated increasing every day, there is real reason for hope for better months ahead. But on the periphery of this growing light, there is also a shadow of these new variants of the COVID-19 in the city,” Dr. Dave Chokshi, commissioner of the city Department of Health, said at a press briefing.
Two cases of the South Africa variant, called B.1.351, have been found in Big Apple residents, according to the health commissioner.
Since last week, the number of confirmed city cases of the highly contagious UK variant. known as B.1.1.7, increased from 59 to 116, Chokshi said.
“The city will continue testing thousands of samples to learn more and the Health Department’s disease detectives are investigating the public health implications of these variants,” said Chokshi.
Meanwhile, the homegrown strain that has emerged in New York City, known as B.1.526, is currently being classified as “a variant of interest,” Dr. Jay Varma, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s senior adviser for public health, said during the briefing.
“We expect to have preliminary answers [about the New York City variant] by next week,” Varma said.
Varma added, “And if we find out something alarming, we’re going to tell you. If we think the variant probably isn’t going to be a big deal, we’ll tell you that too. And if we aren’t sure yet, we’ll also tell you.”
“We’re going to keep doing what we have been doing, which is keep getting the best possible data and using it to fight this epidemic together,” he said.
The New York City variant was first found in Manhattan’s Washington Heights — but officials say it’s unclear where it originated.
Varma deemed the UK strain, the South African variant and the Brazil variant, known as P.1, “variants of concern.”
“What makes it a variant of concern? It could change so much that it evades our usual tests. Our usual tests can’t diagnose it, or it’s changed so much that it evades our antibodies. Or it changed so much that it leads to more severe disease and death,” said Varma.
Chokshi noted that the health officials “are still learning about the effectiveness of vaccines on these variants, but the research so far is consistent that the COVID-19 vaccines authorized by the FDA [Food and Drug Administration] will help lower the risk of severe infections and death.”