April 3, 2021

Virus Variants Threaten to Draw Out the Pandemic, Scientists Say

By Benjamin Mueller Apoorva Mandavilli

1,886 words

Declining infection rates over all masked a rise in more contagious forms of the coronavirus. Vaccines will stop the spread, if Americans postpone celebration just a bit longer.

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Refreshed on April 9, 2021 at 6:51:10 pm

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April 9, 2021 at 6:51 pm CHANGED
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  Limited genetic testing has turned up more than 12,500 cases, many in Florida and Michigan. As of March 13, the variant accounted for about 27 percent of new cases nationwide, up from just 1 percent in early February.
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  The Biden administration has pledged a “down payment” of $200 million to ramp up surveillance, an infusion intended to make it possible to analyze 25,000 patient samples each week for virus variants. It’s an ambitious goal: The country was sequencing just a few hundred samples each week in December, then scaling up to about 9,000 per week as of March 27.
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- Until recently, B.1.1.7’s rise was camouflaged by falling rates of infection over all, lulling Americans into a false sense of security and leading to prematurely relaxed restrictions, researchers say.
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+ Until recently, B.1.1.7’s rise was camouflaged by falling rates of infection overall, lulling Americans into a false sense of security and leading to prematurely relaxed restrictions, researchers say.
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  “The best way to think about B.1.1.7 and other variants is to treat them as separate epidemics,” said Sebastian Funk, a professor of infectious disease dynamics at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. “We’re really kind of obscuring the view by adding them all up to give an overall number of cases.”
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  Other variants identified in South Africa and Brazil, as well as some virus versions first seen in the United States, have been slower to spread. But they, too, are worrisome, because they contain a mutation that diminishes the vaccines’ effectiveness. Just this week, an outbreak of P.1, the variant that crushed Brazil, forced a shutdown of the Whistler Blackcomb ski resort in British Columbia.

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