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Data: New variants now more than 70% of New York City COVID-19 cases 

People in February wait for a COVID-19 vaccine

People in February wait for a COVID-19 vaccine at a New York Health Department clinic. Credit: AP/Mary Altaffer

Troublesome coronavirus variants — including the more infectious kind first detected in the United Kingdom — are now believed to represent more than 70% of COVID-19 cases in New York City, according to a data analysis released this week by the municipal government.

The analysis hypothesizes that the variants, despite an increase in the number of vaccinated New Yorkers, are to blame for the failure of the infection rate to decline in the city, as has happened in some other places.

"This suggests the spread of specific variants, potentially due to their greater infectiousness, which is one reason why COVID-19 cases in NYC remain at a high plateau of between 3,000 to 4,000 new cases each day," said the report, which was released Monday.

Jordan Carmon, a spokesman for Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, said the county does not have its own lab to do variant testing and relies on the state’s Wadsworth Center lab in Albany, to keep the information. The state has not released an updated by-county list.

Derek Poppe, a spokesman for Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, did not answer a text message and a voicemail seeking details about the county’s variants.

Dr. Jay Varma, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s senior adviser for the pandemic response, has said of the evolutionary process that causes variants, or mutations: "Dogs bark, ducks quack, viruses mutate. That's what viruses do."

A viral invader like the coronavirus enters the body — human, or otherwise — and takes it hostage, using the host's cells like a turbocharged copy machine, replicating itself millions of times. Those copies sometimes vary from the original. Most are inferior. But over time, in evolutionary trial-and-error, some copies are more efficient — more contagious, deadlier, more sickening.

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The U.K. variant, for instance, is thought to be as much as 50% more infectious than the initial virus responsible for the early round of infections last year.

That variant, known as B.1.1.7., is to blame for about 30% of cases in the city. But a variant first detected in the city, known as B.1.526, represents about 45% of cases. The U.K. variant is slightly more common in southern Brooklyn, eastern Queens and on Staten Island. Of the city variant, which is slightly more common in the Bronx and in parts of Queens, the report said "there are signs" that it’s more infectious.

The city’s report found that the rate of variants, including those of "concern," is increasing. The report, covering New Year's Day through March 27 and issued by the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, represents about 5% of samples from people found to be infected with the coronavirus.

Coronavirus vaccination could prove less effective against variants, but is still believed to provide strong, or at least some, protection.

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