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Are there different strains or variants of COVID-19? Are they in New Jersey?

Last Updated: 06/22/2021

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 several variants: the B16172 (Delta - India), the B117 (Alpha - UK variant), the B1351 (Beta - South African), and the P1 (Gamma - Brazilian). These variants seem to spread more easily, which may lead to more cases of COVID.

So far, reports show vaccines authorized for use in the United States have been effective against the variants, preventing serious illness and slowing the spread of the virus. 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 B16172 (Delta) variant, the B117 (Alpha) variant, the P1 (Gamma), 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.

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 - The CDC recommends unvaccinated people wear masks in public spaces, gatherings, and anywhere they will be around other people.
  • Keep a Social Distance – The CDC recommends unvaccinated people stay at least 6 feet away from other people who are not from your household in both indoor and outdoor spaces.
  • Delay travel until you are fully vaccinated based on CDC guidance. For more information, refer to the CDC's guidance for domestic travel.
  • Avoid crowds and poorly ventilated spaces if you are not vaccinated. Being in crowds like restaurants, bars, fitness centers, or movie theaters puts you at higher risk for COVID-19. Avoid indoor spaces that do not offer fresh air from the outdoors as much as possible.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Get Tested – Testing is now available to everyone in New Jersey. It's especially important to get tested if you have COVID-19 symptoms after being exposed, have been in close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 and are not fully vaccinated or recently recovered, you were recently in a large gathering where social distancing was hard to maintain and are not fully vaccinated or recently recovered, or if you must travel and are not fully vaccinated. Find a testing location near you.
  • 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.

Source: Health Commissioner Persichilli's Remarks 2/17/21; https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/more/science-and-research/scientific-brief-emerging-variants.html