Topline
Scientists have found seven separate but similar variants of the coronavirus that have emerged within the United States and appear share a similar genetic mutation to more contagious U.K. and South African types, raising concerns that the U.S. may have to deal with multiple variants of the virus that likely spread more easily.

The U.S. has sequenced genomes from less than 1% of all detected coronavirus samples in the country.

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Key Facts

A preprint study released on Sunday, found that the seven variants—all of which evolved independently—have been spotted in several states.

It is not yet clear if their mutations—which are similar to the more contagious foreign variants—make either of the seven types more contagious, but scientists suspect this is likely the case.

One of the variants, Q677P, was first detected in the U.S. on October 23, yet it accounted for 27.8% cases in Louisiana between December 1 and January 19.

It is, however, unclear if increased presence of the variants was due to its higher transmissibility or if it was aided by holiday travel or other superspreader events.

Crucial Quote
“There’s clearly something going on with this mutation. I think there’s a clear signature of an evolutionary benefit,” Jeremy Kamil, a virologist at Louisiana State University and one of the study’s co-author told the New York Times.

Key Background
As the U.S. witnesses a sustained decline in Covid-19 cases, the more contagious U.K. and South African variants remain the biggest concern. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease official, told the New York Times Saturday that the variants were the “big wild card” and warned if people failed to adhere to public health measures, those variants could “take off on us.” While the British variant is more contagious, the variant from South Africa appears to some extent to blunt the effectiveness of existing vaccines, according to limited, early data. Emergence of similarly threatening homegrown variants could compound the challenge, but knowledge about mutations within the U.S. remains woefully limited as the country has sequenced genomes from less than 1% of all coronavirus samples.

Big Number
1173. That is the number of detected cases with the the U.K. variant—known as B.1.1.7—across 40 states in the U.S., according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It is most prevalent in Florida with 379 detected cases.

Further Reading
A new study identifies seven U.S. virus variants with the same worrying mutation (New York Times)

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