NJ Sees Increase in New, More Infectious COVID-19 Strain

New Jersey Department of Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said today that the state now has eight total cases of the new and more highly transmissible B117 strain of COVID-19, a variant of the virus that emerged in the United Kingdom in December.

With six new cases of the variant reported today, four have occurred in Ocean County, two in Essex County, and two in Morris County. The ages of those affected by the B117 strain range in age from 10 to 65 years old.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), B117 is a more highly transmissible variant of SARS-CoV-2. The modeled trajectory of this variant in the US exhibits rapid growth in early 2021, with B117 becoming the predominant variant of the virus in March.

The CDC cautioned that the increased transmission from the new variant might threaten strained healthcare resources, require extended and more rigorous implementation of public health strategies, and increase the percentage of population immunity required for pandemic control.

One individual stricken with the new variant in New Jersey had an international travel history, according to Persichilli. Additionally, she said that there has been one death tied to the new variant, but that individual did have significant underlying conditions.

While the B117 strain is a more transmissible version of the virus, according to State Epidemiologist Eddy A. Bresnitz, the “jury is still out” on its lethality.

“The UK had several studies looking at the variant and the three or four that they looked at showed that there was some increase in mortality,” Breznitz said. “But there are weaknesses, methodologically, in those studies such as bias samples and not very many deaths, for example. So it’s certainly worrisome, but I think the jury is still out on that.”

Persichilli said that the state is working to begin reporting cases of the new variant on the state’s COVID-19 dashboard.

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