But how much should we care, given that so many people in this condition have already been vaccinated or are about to be eligible? The truth is, it’s hard to tell, even for experts.
For now, the best we can do is assess the data we have on variants. Here’s a quick rundown of what we know.
First, let’s look at the number of coronavirus cases involving the variants detected so far in Massachusetts. The CDC and the state say 977 cases of the British variant, 82 cases of the Brazilian variant and 12 cases of the South African variant have been found. The numbers have risen since the state’s first case, a British variant, was announced on January 17.
British variant totals are the fourth highest in the United States, while Brazilian variant totals are second highest.
Here is a county-by-county map from the public health department of the state where the cases were discovered.
An important caveat: these data do not represent the actual number of variant cases. The genomic sequencing necessary for the search for variants is only carried out on a limited number of tests. The figures are “based on a sample of samples positive for SARS-CoV-2 and do not represent the total number of … cases that may circulate,” the CDC says.
Next, let’s look at the proportion of different variants in the state. Data from the CDC suggests that the UK variant, as of mid-March, accounted for nearly a fifth of cases in the state, while two other official variants of concern, the B.1.427 and B.1.429, or California variants, are in second position Most widespread.
Again, data from a limited number of tests comes with a caveat. The CDC notes, “Variant proportions do not represent the total number that may be in circulation.”
Data from a very different source provides another warning sign that variants are lurking in Massachusetts. The Massachusetts Water Resources Authority found the British variant in the wastewater from the Deer Island treatment plant.
Cambridge’s Biobot Analytics, the company that performs the tests for the MWRA, says its tests have always been able to detect coronaviruses, regardless of the variant. But recently the company announced that it has added the ability to specifically distinguish when its sampling has taken over the UK variant. The days when the variant was detected are displayed in green on the graph.
The emphasis on the British variant is understandable, given its predominance among the variants. It is also around 60% more contagious and 67% more deadly than the original form of the coronavirus, according to the most recent estimates.
Nationally, the CDC also reports the number of case variants by state, broken down by the three most well-known variants of concern.
The same caveats about limited testing apply.
Using data gleaned from genomic sequencing tests, scientists at the Scripps Research Institute calculated a nationwide estimate of the proportion of coronavirus cases caused by variants of concern and variants of interest, one less category. disturbing.
This graph suggests that worrying variants were involved in about a third of all current coronavirus cases nationwide as of mid-March.
The CDC’s efforts to track the spread of the coronavirus variants were criticized earlier this year. But they have improved dramatically in recent weeks and are expected to continue to improve, in large part because of the $ 1.75 billion in genome sequencing funding in the stimulus package.
Still, testing for variants needs to be more systematic, more extensive and more nuanced, said Dr Thomas Tsai, assistant professor at Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health.
The general picture that emerges, however, is clear. The British, South African and Brazilian variants are gaining ground in the United States, underscoring the need for people to continue to take precautions to prevent the spread, he said.
“The main message is pretty consistent. There is an increasing prevalence of the worrisome variants. And that calls for continued vigilance over the next few weeks even as the vaccine rollout advances ahead of schedule, ”Tsai said. “We’ve come a long way, but we still haven’t made it out of the woods.”
Amanda Kaufman of Globe staff contributed to this report. Globe Wire services hardware has been used in this report.