John Paraskevas/Newsday via Getty
New coronavirus variants have been detected in New York City and California and are already spreading rapidly, researchers announced this week.
The N.Y.C. variant, called B.1.526, has appeared in 12.7% of positive coronavirus cases over the past two weeks in the city and neighboring areas, according to scientists at Columbia University, CNN reported.
One of the mutations of the variant is reportedly the same change found in the South African variant, known as B.1.351, which has already been detected in the U.S by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
According to CNN, the mutation in both variants, called E484K, is believed to partially diminish the body's immune response. It has also been found to reduce the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine (Both Pfizer and Moderna have created vaccines that are being readily administered in the U.S. and are 95% effective against the regular COVID-19 strain).
"We find the rate of detection of this new variant is going up over the past few weeks. A concern is that it might be beginning to overtake other strains, just like the UK and South African variants," Dr. David Ho, Director of the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center at Columbia, who led the study team, told CNN via email.
On Tuesday, another coronavirus variant was detected in California by a team of scientists at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF).
The California variant, known as B.1.427/B.1.429, has a different pattern of mutations than the ones seen in the United Kingdom and South Africa and is likely more contagious and may cause more severe disease, according to multiple outlets.
The variant wasn't identified in any test samples from September but by the end of January it was found in 50 percent of them, CNN reported.
Justin Tallis - Pool / Getty Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine
The CDC has said that the methods for protecting against new coronavirus strains are the same as others — wearing a mask (and doubling up on them, if possible), social distancing and only interacting with people in your household. Vaccinations will also make a huge difference in fighting the strain: The Biden administration has rapidly ramped up the U.S. vaccination rate and around 1.4 million people are getting a dose each day.
On Monday, the nationwide COVID-19 death toll surpassed 500,000, according to Johns Hopkins University, an unimaginable loss reaching nearly every town and city in the country.
As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments. To help provide doctors and nurses on the front lines with life-saving medical resources, donate to Direct Relief here.