COVID-19 Variants 'Seem To Be Taking Off' As Cases Spike In Philadelphia Region, Research Finds

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — New concerns as COVID-19 variants are linked to more infections in the Philadelphia region. Troubling mutations, such as those from Brazil and South Africa are more contagious and they’re fueling a spike in cases in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and throughout the country

Virus fatigue, people not being as precautious and more traveling get some of the blame for growing cases. And now there’s new evidence that the variants are also increasing.

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“Variants are becoming more common in our area and unfortunately that’s associated with an increase in infections,” said Frederic Bushman, an aide from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

Bushman’s microbiology lab at the University of Pennsylvania is one of the few testing for COVID-19 variants.

They found different strains in 30% of 80 random virus samples from the Philadelphia region.

“The UK strain, the South African strain, the Brazilian strain really seem to be taking off,” Bushman said.

The variants aren’t more dangerous or deadly but they are more contagious and now partially blamed for a new spike in cases.

In Pennsylvania, there’s been a 54% increase over the past two weeks.

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“What that says to me is we need to move even faster to get people wearing masks, keeping a distance and get vaccinated,” said Philadelphia Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley.

He says even with increasing vaccinations, there haven’t been enough to stop a resurgence.

“The risk is as high as it’s ever been, the virus is still here and it’s still deadly,” Farley said. “We’re tired of the virus, the virus isn’t tired of us, if anything the virus is more energetic than ever was this is a stickier strain.”

There are some indications the vaccine is less effective against the South African and Brazilian strains.

“You think that this is going to lead to even more cases and more cases of the variants?” asked CBS3’s Stephanie Stahl.

“I think it may have already, we don’t know for sure but it seems likely, unfortunately,” Bushman said. “The solution is to bring every method we have of suppressing the virus to bear. Get vaccinated, wear masks, social distancing, hand washing.

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As of Monday, Pennsylvania had 400 cases of the variant first detected in the United Kingdom, according to data from the CDC, up from 168 last Monday.