Researchers at Ohio State University have discovered a new COVID-19 variant in Columbus, Ohio, that might be more transmissible — similar to the variant originally discovered in the United Kingdom.

  • The new UK variant has been deemed more transmissible than the more common version of the novel coronavirus.

What’s going on?

The researchers said they found a new U.S. strain of the novel coronavirus — called COH.20G/501Y — with three gene mutations that had not been previously seen.

These mutations were more commonly seen in Columbus in the last few weeks than anywhere else.

  • “This new Columbus strain has the same genetic backbone as earlier cases we’ve studied, but these three mutations represent a significant evolution,” said study leader Dr. Dan Jones, vice chair of the division of molecular pathology, in a news release. “We know this shift didn’t come from the U.K. or South African branches of the virus.”
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The researchers said the mutations seen in the “Columbus strain are likely to make the virus more infectious, making it easier for the virus to pass from person to person,” the university said in a news release on Wednesday. 

What about the vaccine?

Peter Mohler, a study co-author and chief scientific officer at the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center and vice dean for research at the College of Medicine, said in the news release that right now “we have no data to believe that these mutations will have any impact on the effectiveness of vaccines now in use.”

One note for the rest of the country

Mohler said in the news release it’s important not to overreact to the new variant.

However, the scientists, including Jones, said that the rest of the country might want to remain on the watch for their own variants.

  • “Viruses naturally mutate and evolve over time, but the changes seen in the last two months have been more prominent than in the first months of the pandemic,” Jones said.
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The recent U.S. surge

However, experts recently told The Washington Post that there is no evidence the winter surge of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. is linked to the new United Kingdom variant or any homegrown COVID-19 variant.

Dr. Anthony Fauci hasn’t left out the possibility, though.

  • “It could be — a possibility — that we have our own mutant that’s being more easily transmissible,” he said, per The Washington Post. “We don’t know. We’re looking for it. . . . If you look at the slope of our curve, which is very steep, it looks a bit like the curve in the U.K.”