New COVID-19 strain found in three states, Murphy says not in New Jersey yet

TRENTON, NJ – A new, more contagious strain of COVID-19 has been found in patients in three states, Colorado, Florida and California.  New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy says that it has not yet been detected in the Garden State.  Murphy however said, he and his administration are preparing for the worst and that it’s already here.

“I think we said this on Monday, we’re assuming the worst, we’re assuming that it’s in our midst,” Murphy said. “The basic stuff still applies even more so, it’s more highly transmittable. Secondly, there’s no evidence and Tina, you should weigh in on all this, that the vaccine is less efficacious with this or that this is more lethal. It spreads more easily, but appears to be, and again it’s incomplete scientific data, appears to be no more lethal. Tina, come on in and correct the record.”

Right now we do not have any evidence that this new variant has emerged here in New Jersey, but I do want to mention that our public health laboratory is in the process of ramping up its own sequencing capacity. It actually does participate in CDC’s national strain surveillance activities. We always send representative samples of our viruses down to CDC for sequencing as well. We anticipate that probably in the next several weeks, there are going to be more variant cases, unfortunately or fortunately, that we’re able to identify here in the US in general,” said Dr. Christina Tan. “As the Governor had mentioned, there’s no evidence at this time about this new variant causing more severe illness or less severe illness, for that matter. We also do not have any evidence about whether there will be any issues with the vaccine right now or with therapeutics associated with SARS Cov-2. That’s why we continue to monitor what the situation is. But that said, we have to continue to take those measures to prevent the spread of the virus in general, whether it’s the new variant or whether it’s our existing, more common virus here. Again, wash your hands, social distance, mask up, those are the keys.”

The new strain of COVID-19 is called B.1.1.7.

The CDC reports the new variant strain of SARS-CoV-2 that contains a series of mutations has been described in the United Kingdom (UK) and become highly prevalent in London and southeast England. Based on these mutations, this variant strain has been predicted to potentially be more rapidly transmissible than other circulating strains of SARS-CoV-2. Although a variant may predominate in a geographic area, that fact alone does not mean that the variant is more infectious. Scientists are working to learn more about this variant to better understand how easily it might be transmitted and whether currently authorized vaccines will protect people against it.

At this time, there is no evidence that this variant causes more severe illness or increased risk of death. Information regarding the virologic, epidemiologic, and clinical characteristics of the variant are rapidly emerging. CDC, in collaboration with other public health agencies, is monitoring the situation closely. CDC will communicate new information as it becomes available.

The CDC does not expect the virus to have mutated enough to negate the current Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

The new strain emerged last month in the United Kingdom.

In response to the outbreak, Murphy imposed restrictions on flights from the United Kingdom into New Jersey’s Newark Airport.

“In effort to strengthen existing travel protocols with our partners at United, beginning Monday, December 28, all United customers with flights originating in the U.K. will be required to present proof of a negative COVID-19 test obtained within 72 hours of departure for incoming flights to Newark Liberty International Airport,” Murphy said. “As we continue to experience a second wave of COVID-19 cases, it’s critical that we take any and all precautions to mitigate the potential for further transmission. While New Jersey continues to strongly discourage all non-essential travel at this time, if unavoidable, international travelers should adhere to CDC guidance for pre- and post-flight testing and the recommended self-quarantine period.”