These Are the 8 States Where the New Delta-Plus Strain Is Now Spreading
Health officials are concerned the subvariant could potentially spread faster than Delta.
As autumn carries on, so does the progress made since the surge caused by the Delta variant that sent COVID cases soaring across the U.S. Recent data shows that the daily average of reported cases in the U.S. reached 72,000 last week, marking a 58 percent decrease since the summer's peak of 172,500 average daily cases on Sept. 13, CNBC reports. But even as health officials remain cautiously optimistic, a Delta subvariant known as AY.4.2 has been reported in eight states so far, with some concerned it can spread faster than its predecessor, CBS News reports.
According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the AY.4.2 subvariant has already been circulating in the U.S. for weeks but at a very low rate making up less than 0.05 percent of active cases. "We have teams that are constantly reviewing the genetic sequence data and looking for blips, an increase in a certain proportion or just something that's completely new," Summer Galloway, MD, executive secretary of the U.S. government's SARS-CoV-2 Interagency Group, told CBS News.
Galloway explained labs have begun prioritizing tests to determine whether or not the new subvariant is more likely to elude the antibodies generated by current vaccines. "Right now, I think there's not a lot that we know. But in terms of the risk that it poses to public health, the prevalence is very low in the U.S., and we don't really anticipate that the substitutions [of AY.4.2] are going to have a significant impact on either the effectiveness of our vaccines or its susceptibility to monoclonal antibody treatments," she told CBS News.
While the virus may still be circulating at low levels in the U.S., many scientists are looking elsewhere for more potential evidence—including the U.K., where the subvariant has accounted for one in 10 new cases over the past four weeks, according to data from public health consortium Cog-UK. So far, such findings potentially point to AY.4.2 posing less of a threat than when the original variant began to spread.
"It looks like it has somewhere between a 12 percent and 18 percent transmission advantage over Delta, so it's not good news in that sense," Christina Pagel, PhD, director of the Clinical Operational Research Unit at University College London, told CNBC. "It's going to make things a bit more difficult, but it's not a massive jump."
But Pagel predicted that the current data likely means the latest variant could be less of a concern. "Delta compared to Alpha was around 60 percent more transmissible, it was doubling every week. This is going up by a percent or two a week—it's much, much slower. So in that sense, it's not a big disaster like Delta was. It will probably gradually replace Delta over the next few months. But there's no sign it's more vaccine resistant, [so] at the moment I wouldn't be panicking about it."
Other experts pointed out that viruses change by their very nature and that the latest subvariant was no different. "New variants are generated all the time," Amesh Adalja, MD, senior scholar at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told Business Insider. "That's the normal thing that this virus is going to do. It's going to continue to mutate. While variants may garner headlines and people may write doomsday scenarios about them, most are not going to really change the trajectory of the pandemic."
Adjala went on to explain that the best way to keep the virus from mutating into potentially more dangerous versions of itself was to stop it from spreading altogether as soon as possible. "The solution to the variants is the vaccine," he told Business Insider, adding, "if people want to be less scared of the variants, the solution is to have people vaccinated so there are less variants generally."
But where has the AY.4.2 subvariant already been reported? Read on to see which states have already spotted at least one case of the new Delta-plus strain as of Nov. 2, according to Outbreak.info.
So far, California has two reported cases caused by the AY.4.2 subvariant. The state currently has a 2.8 percent positivity rate with a daily new case average of 17.6 per 100,000 people, according to COVID Act Now.
Florida has reported a single case caused by the Delta subvariant to date. The state is currently seeing a daily average of 7.6 new cases per capita and a positive test rate of 3.2 percent.
One AY.4.2 case has been reported in Maryland so far, where the positive test rate is currently 3.6 percent, and the new daily case average is 12.1 per capita.
Labs in Massachusetts have so far found at least one case of the new Delta subvariant. Meanwhile, the commonwealth's current positive test rate is 1.7 percent, and the daily new case average is 19 per 100,000 people.
Nevada has so far found one case caused by the AY.4.2 Delta-plus subvariant. The state also has a daily new case average of 20.1 per capita and a positive test rate of 9.5 percent.
In North Carolina, one case was found to have been caused by AY.4.2. Its positive test rate is 4.9 percent, and its daily new case average is 18 per 100,000 people.
Genetic sequencing has so far turned up one case caused by the AY.4.2 subvariant in Rhode Island. The smallest state in the Union also has a positive test rate of 1.7 percent and a daily new case average of 20.3 per capita.
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Washington is one of the eight states where labs have discovered the Delta-plus subvariant, reporting a single case so far. While data on its positive test rate is unreported, there is currently a daily new case average of 27.1 per 100,000 people.