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

Last Updated: 09/21/2021

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.

The Delta Variant

The Delta variant has become the majority of COVID-19 cases in the US -- increasing from less than 1% of cases in May 2021 to over 80% of cases in July 2021.

The Delta variant spreads about twice as easily from person to person than previous strains. Additionally, people infected with the variant have higher viral loads—meaning more virus in their body—than with previous variants

How do I protect myself from these variants?

The best way to protect yourself from the virus is to get a COVID-19 vaccine. Getting vaccinated makes you:

  • 3.5x less likely to get infected with COVID-19
  • 8x less likely to get ill from COVID-19
  • 25x less likely to be hospitalized or die from COVID-19

In addition, everyone should wear a mask in areas with high COVID-19 transmission, regardless of vaccination status. If you are unvaccinated or at high risk, wear a mask and keep physical distance in indoor and some outdoor spaces.

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; https://www.state.nj.us/health/cd/documents/topics/NCOV/delta_variant_flyer_english.pdf