New coronavirus variant in New York spurs caution, concern

Marion Renault
Associated Press

New York — Another mutated version of the coronavirus has popped up in New York City, and experts reacted to the the news with a mixture of caution and concern.

The new variant first appeared in the New York area in late November, and has since cropped up in neighboring states, according to researchers at the California Institute of Technology, one of two teams to share their work this week.

FILE - In this Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021 file photo, people wait in line at a mass vaccination site in the Queens borough of New York.

But how problematic the variant may be isn’t known yet. Viruses are constantly mutating — or making typos in their genetic code — as they spread and make copies of themselves.

Two research groups — at Caltech and Columbia University in New York — released papers this week describing their findings about the new variant. Neither paper has been published or reviewed by other scientists.

The Caltech researchers found that the new variant showed up in about a quarter of the 1,200 virus sequences they looked at this month. The variant has also shown up in New Jersey and Connecticut and has made “isolated appearances across the country,” said CalTech’s Anthony West, a co-author of the paper.

Both groups noted that the new variant has a mutation that could potentially weaken the effectiveness of vaccines – a mutation seen in other worrisome variants.

“There is clearly something to keep an eye on,” Balloux said.

A variant that has been spreading in California is also getting attention.

It’s been found in 40% to 50% of samples examined by the Los Angeles Count Department of Public Health, according to Director Barbara Ferrer. But there isn’t enough rigorous research to determine what, if any, effect its mutations might have.

Experts say that public health measures like social distancing and masks will reduce opportunities for the coronavirus to continue mutating and run rampant.

“Emerging of variants will occur,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, told NBC on Thursday. “The trick is when they do occur, to prevent them from spreading.”