Ns News Online Desk: Infectious variants of the coronavirus now make up more than half of the COVID-19 cases in New York City — and the majority of them are the city’s homegrown strain, Big Apple officials said Wednesday.
The homegrown strain that has emerged in New York City, called B.1.526, and the highly contagious UK variant, known as B.1.1.7, together “account for 51 percent of all cases that we have in the city right now,” Dr. Jay Varma, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s senior adviser for public health, said during a City Hall press briefing.
The New York City variant represented 39 percent of samples tested during the most recent week “with full data,” compared to 31 percent the week prior, added Dr. Dave Chokshi, commissioner of the city Department of Health.
“The B.1.526 variant, in particular, is increasing in prevalence across New York City,” the health commissioner said. The UK strain has increased to 12 percent of samples analyzed in the most recent week — up from 8 percent the week before, according to Chokshi.
“Unfortunately, we have found that the new variants of COVID-19 are continuing to spread,” Varma said, explaining that city health officials “learned a lot in the past week about the situation of variants in New York City.”
Preliminary analysis shows the homegrown variant “is probably more infectious than older strains” of the coronavirus, Varma said. It may be “similar in infectiousness” to the UK variant, “but we’re not certain about this yet,” said Varma. “We need to understand and study it more.”
One British study said the UK variant — which has been spreading across the US and accounts for more than 3,200 confirmed cases in the country — may be about 30 percent to 70 percent deadlier than the original virus strain.
But city officials said the NYC variant has not been found to be more deadly. preliminary analysis does not show this new strain, B.1.526, causes more severe illness or reduces the effectiveness of vaccines,” Varma said.
De Blasio added, “So far, thank God, what we’re finding is the variants are not posing the worst kind of problems we might fear — for example, a variant that is more deadly, we’re not seeing that. A variant that is vaccine-resistant, we’re not seeing that.”
“What we are seeing is variants that are more infectious and therefore spread the disease more and that’s a real issue,” the mayor said.
Mitchell Katz, president and CEO of NYC Health + Hospitals, added that COVID-19-related deaths and serious hospitalizations have been on the decline despite the rise in variants.
“When I look at the data, I think what is most notable is that while variants have been increasing, the deaths and serious hospitalizations have been decreasing,” Katz said.“The way that I understand that is that we have been very good about vaccinating people at greatest risk,” Katz said. “So because we’ve been able to vaccinate those people at highest risk and because the vaccine is working against the variants, we are seeing major drops in deaths and hospitalizations.”
The latest city data shows that the Big Apple has a coronavirus positivity rate of 6.23 percent on a seven-day rolling average.
That data also shows that 243 people were admitted to city hospitals with suspected COVID-19 on Monday and 64 percent of them tested positive for the bug. The city’s seven-day rolling average of new virus cases was at 3,196, according to the data.
Health officials said the best way to fight back against the variants is to continue to practice the coronavirus safety protocols already in place — like mask-wearing, hand-washing, getting tested for COVID-19, keeping a safe distance from others, and getting vaccinated when eligible. “What works the most — vaccination,” de Blasio said. “That’s the number one weapon in the war against these variants.”