South African coronavirus variant detected in New York resident

New York has confirmed a case of the South African coronavirus variant in a Nassau County resident.

The case was discovered through sequencing at a city-based commercial lab, and no other details were given in an announcement posted Sunday, such as the patient’s condition, travel history or when the case was confirmed.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo noted a drop in statewide positivity and hospitalizations, allowing a further push on reopenings, but amid news of the variant, urged residents to double down on mitigation measures like face masks, hand hygiene and social distancing.

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“…With the discovery of a case of the South African variant in the state, it’s more important than ever for New Yorkers to stay vigilant, wear masks, wash hands and stay socially distanced.” Cuomo said, in part, in a statement posted Sunday. “We are in a race right now — between our ability to vaccinate and these variants which are actively trying to proliferate — and we will only win that race if we stay smart and disciplined.”

The news follows a separate announcement from last Monday, when the state confirmed the variant in a patient who was transferred to a city hospital from Connecticut. At the time, Cuomo said that there was no evidence of further spread pertaining to the case.

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Several mutated versions of the virus have caused significant concern among experts because they have shown to diminish vaccine efficacy, including variants first identified in South Africa, B.1.351, and the United Kingdom, B.1.1.7. These strains involve changes along the surface spike proteins that allow the pathogen to bind more tightly to healthy cells. 

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes the B.1.351 variant has been reported in 22 cases across ten states, with 44 states reporting over 1,660 cases of the B.1.1.7 strain, which has been projected to become the dominant strain in the U.S. by March.

Several companies are exploring variant booster shots in a bid for more protection against the strains. Both Pfizer and Moderna have said protection against the B.1.351 variant in particular remains unclear. Studies have suggested the variant dropped the Pfizer vaccine’s neutralization power by about two-thirds, while Moderna saw a six-fold reduction in neutralizing antibodies.

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