Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Anthony Fauci speaks during the daily briefing in the Brady Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, on January 21, 2021.
Mandel Ngan | AFP | Getty Images
The Biden administration is taking the emergence of a new coronavirus strain in New York “very seriously,” White House Chief Medical Advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said Monday.
The new strain, which researchers are calling B.1.526, is rapidly spreading in New York City and carries a mutation that could weaken the effectiveness of vaccines, according to The New York Times. The variant first appeared in November and now accounts for about 1-in-4 viral sequences, the Times reports.
Fauci said Monday the strain likely originated in Washington Heights, a neighborhood in the uppermost area of Manhattan, before spreading to other boroughs. He said U.S. officials need to “keep an eye” on the strain, including the possibility that it could evade the protection of antibody treatments and vaccines.
“We are certainly taking the New York variant, the 526, very seriously,” Fauci said during a White House news briefing.
U.S. health officials are growing worried that the emergence of new, highly contagious variants could reverse the downward trajectory in infections in the United States and delay the nation’s recovery from the pandemic. They are also pushing Americans to get vaccinated as quickly as possible before potentially new and even more dangerous variants continue to take hold.
At the same news briefing, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, said she is “really worried” about some states rolling back public health measures intended to contain the pandemic as U.S. cases appear to be leveling off at a “very high number” of 70,000 cases per day.
“Seventy thousand cases a day seems good compared to where we were just a few months ago,” she said. “Please hear me clearly: At this level of cases with variants spreading, we stand to completely lose the hard-earned ground we have gained.”
In addition to the B.1.526 strain in New York, officials are monitoring four other variants. As of Sunday, the CDC has identified 2,400 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant, first identified in the U.K. The agency has identified 53 cases of the B.1.351 strain from South Africa as well as 10 cases of P.1, a variant first identified in Brazil. California scientists are also monitoring a variant called B.1.427/B.1.429.
Fauci said Monday that there are a lot of “unknowns” about the New York variant, but officials are looking at the strain “very carefully.”