COVID mutations spreading in US; FL cases highest for UK strain; South Africa strain seeped into 7 states, DC

Novel coronavirus SARS CoV2, which causes COVID-19. Meanwhile, new COVID mutations called variants are now spreading across the U.S. Microphotography by National Institute on Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

COVID mutations have spread to 39 states and Washington D.C., with Florida at 379 cases of the United Kingdom strain known as B.1.1.7 — more than any other state, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Sunday.

The agency reported a total of 1,173 cases of the United Kingdom strain nationwide. That variant is more transmissible and potentially more lethal.

Other states with large numbers of B.1.1.7 cases are: California (186); Colorado (67); Michigan (61); New York (59); Texas (49); Georgia, (45).

The CDC, is also tracking two other strains, a South Africa and a Brazil variant. The South Africa strain (B.1.351) now has 17 cases in seven states and Washington, D.C. : California, Texas, Illinois, North Carolina, Maryland, Virginia, South Carolina and DC.

The Brazil variant (P.1) has three cases in 2 states: Minnesota and Oklahoma.

(The cases identified are based on a sampling and do not represent the total number of B.1.1.7, B.1.351, and P.1 lineage cases that may be circulating in the United States, according to the CDC.)

You can look at a CDC variant map here.

Health officials say people should take measures, such as double masking, to avoid getting the virus and its mutations. State officials can also pursue measures, such as a statewide mask mandate, though Gov. Ron DeSantis has been against such a requirement.

Cases are expected to continue to climb, as federal health officials earlier warned of the new COVID-19 variant, B.1.1.7 potentially becoming the dominant strain by March. Vaccines have become increasingly important as the mutations continue.

DeSantis, who has been mum for weeks about mutations, has tried to assuage residents, saying last week that: “In terms of the UK variant, here’s what we know: we know, based on all of the evidence, that these vaccines are going to be effective against that, and that’s really the main concern…we haven’t seen any data or any evidence to suggest that these vaccines are not effective.”

But language from the CDC is not as concrete:

B.1.1.7: In the United Kingdom (UK), a variant of SARS-CoV-2 known as B.1.1.7 emerged. This variant carries a large number of mutations and has since been detected around the world, including in the United States (US). This variant was first detected in the US at the end of December 2020. In January 2021, scientists from the UK reported early evidence[1,2] that suggests the B.1.1.7 variant may be associated with an increased risk of death compared with other variants. More studies are needed to confirm this finding.

B.1.351: In South Africa, another variant of SARS-CoV-2 known as B.1.351 emerged independently of B.1.1.7. According to a non-peer-reviewed preprint article, this variant shares some mutations with B.1.1.7[3]. Cases attributed to B.1.351 have been detected outside of South Africa, and this variant was first detected in the US at the end of January 2021. Preliminary evidence from non-peer-reviewed publications suggests that the Moderna mRNA-1273 vaccine currently used in the US may be less effective against this variant[4], but additional studies are needed.

P.1: In Brazil, a variant of SARS-CoV-2 known as P.1 emerged; it was first identified in January 2021[5] in travelers from Brazil who arrived in Japan. This variant was detected in the US at the end of January 2021 [6]. The P.1 variant has 17 unique mutations, including three in the receptor binding domain of the spike protein (K417T, E484K, and N501Y), according to non-peer-reviewed preprint articles[7,8]. There is evidence to suggest that some of the mutations in the P.1 variant may affect the ability of antibodies (from natural infection or vaccination) to recognize and neutralize the virus[9], but additional studies are needed.

Diane Rado
Diane Rado has covered state and local government and public schools in six states over some 30 years, focusing on policy and investigative stories as well as legislative and political reporting. She spent most of her career at the St. Petersburg (Tampa Bay) Times and the Chicago Tribune. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and did a fellowship in education reform at the University of Michigan in 1999-2000. She is married to a journalist and has three adult children.