The highly-contagious variant of the coronavirus that was first discovered in the United Kingdom before it was found in multiple U.S. states has reached New Jersey, NJ Advance Media has learned.
Gov. Phil Murphy and the state’s top health official will announce at Friday’s COVID-19 briefing in Trenton there have been two cases identified in the Garden State.
Scientists have said the mutation is up to 70% more contagious. But there is no evidence yet it is more deadly or more resistant to vaccines. New Jersey joins at least 20 states where the strain has been confirmed.
“We are reporting that two confirmed COVID-19 variant cases involving the B.1.1.7 or U.K. variant have been identified in New Jersey,” Department of Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli will announce, according to her prepared remarks.
The first case identified is from an Ocean County man in his 60s and the other is a child who was traveling to northern New Jersey, Department of Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli will announce.
“(The man) had no travel history or clear exposures to others who were ill,” Persichilli will say. “The child, who was tested on January 11 in New York City, is asymptomatic. The local health department is working to further investigate this case.”
The man developed symptoms in late December and was tested with a PCR test on Jan. 6. He was never hospitalized and has since recovered.
The governor has said as early as late December that it was likely the new strain was already in the state.
“We’re operating assuming that this strain is upon us,” Murphy said during a briefing on Dec. 28.
It was discovered in neighboring New York in early January.
Viruses often acquire small changes of a letter or two in their genetic alphabet just through normal evolution. A slightly modified strain can become the most common one in a country or region just because that’s the strain that first took hold there or because “super-spreader” events helped it become entrenched.
A bigger worry is when a virus mutates by changing the proteins on its surface to help it escape from drugs or the immune system.
But New Jersey health officials have said they don’t think the variant will limit the effectiveness of the vaccines for the virus.
“The chances are the vaccine will continue to work fine,” Ed Lifshitz, the Department of Health’s Communicable Disease Service medical director, said late last month.
“The reason for that is because for a virus to mutate enough that the antibodies from the vaccine aren’t likely to stop it,” he said, “It would also likely mutate enough that it wouldn’t grab on well to the cell in the first place.”
He added: “I know that the cell vaccine manufacturers are looking at this and certainly, we’re always want to pay attention because we never say never when it comes to viruses, but I would expect that the vaccine would be as effective or nearly as effective against the new variant as the current variants.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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