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Are there different strains or variants of COVID-19? Are they in New Jersey?
Viruses constantly change or mutate, and new variants of a virus are expected to occur overtime. Sometimes new variants emerge and disappear. Other times, new variants emerge and persist.
The variants of concern are ones that have mutations that might contribute to easier transmission, result in more severe illness, have some resistance to vaccination or treatment therapies, or may cause reinfection.
In the US, the CDC is particularly concerned about 3 variants, the B117 (UK variant), the B1351 (South African), and the P1 (Brazilian). These variants seem to spread more easily, which may lead to more cases of COVID. There is also concern that emerging variants may impact vaccine effectiveness; however studies are underway looking at this.
So far, studies suggest antibodies generated through vaccination with currently authorized vaccines will continue to prevent serious illness and slow the virus spread. The impact of the vaccines on new variants is being closely investigated and more studies are underway.
The NY variant (B1526) is also a concern, particularly given the number of detections in NY, but whether this variant is more contagious or has other concerning features is currently unknown. Additionally, the geographic spread appears limited so far.
The NJ Department of Health and the CDC are closely monitoring these variants. Currently, the B117 (UK) variant, the P1 (Brazilian) variant, and B1526 (NY variant) have been reported in New Jersey. For the latest data on variant cases reported in New Jersey by county, visit the NJ Department of Health's dashboard.
The B117 (UK) variant is the most common variant of concern in the US, and of the 3 variants of concern, the P1 variant is relatively uncommon in the US.
How do I protect myself from these variants?
While the increase in variant strains is a concern, the public health measures we have all taken have been proven to reduce the spread of the virus, and in turn, prevent the virus from mutating. So it is critical that we continue to:
- Wear a Mask - Always wear a mask over your nose and mouth in public spaces, and anywhere that you cannot keep 6 feet of distance from another person. Face coverings are required in indoor public spaces and in outdoor public spaces when social distancing is difficult to maintain.
- Keep a Social Distance - Keep six feet between yourself and others whenever possible and avoid crowded areas.
- Stay home if you are sick, except to get medical care. Learn what to do if you are sick.
- Follow the State's travel advisory guidelines and quarantine if returning from beyond the immediate region.
- Get Tested – Testing is now available to everyone in New Jersey. You could have COVID-19 and not even know it. Find a testing location near you at covid19.nj.gov/testing
- Answer The Phone When A Contact Tracer Calls – You've been called because you either tested positive for COVID-19 or have been in close contact with someone who has – so it's critical you answer the phone. Learn how contact tracing saves lives at covid19.nj.gov/testandtrace
- Download the COVID Alert NJ App - The app is New Jersey's free and secure mobile app that anonymously alerts users if they have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. Download the app from the Google Play Store or Apple App Store.
For more information on how to protect yourself and others, refer to this article.
What is New Jersey doing about the variants?
The NJ Department of Health and the CDC are monitoring the situation closely.
The NJ Department of Health's Public Health and Environmental Lab is doing sequencing for all the virus variants. The lab continues to increase its testing capacity and is also working with public and private partners to increase testing for variants.
Additionally, the Department participates in CDC's surveillance program where specimens from NJ residents are randomly selected and sent to CDC for sequencing.
Sequencing is done in collaboration with local, state, and federal health partners on outbreaks with an atypical transmission pattern, cases with international travel to areas where variants are prevalent (Brazil, South Africa) and random samples of COVID-19 positive cases from northern, central, and southern parts of the state.
NJ health officials pay attention to any changes that may increase transmissibility, increase severity, or show resistance to treatments, antibodies, or vaccines, which is why the Department of Health is working to identify and track variants.
When variant cases are confirmed local and state public health officials perform an investigation that includes contact tracing. Contacts are notified and advised to quarantine.