Ohio-based scientists have just discovered two new variants of the COVID-19 coronavirus, according to an initial report from Gizmodo.
Two more coronavirus variants identified in United States
A team of scientists from Ohio State University discovered the new mutations — which like others make the virus more infectious. This means the variants can spread more rapidly through a given population, creating a worrying potential for an acceleration in the numbers of new infections in the U.S. — where healthcare networks are still grossly overburdened from the global pandemic.
UPDATE Jan. 13, 5:00 PM EST: Second new coronavirus strain more rampant than earlier strains
One of the new coronavirus variants was only seen in one case, reports Gizmodo, which means it's anyone's guess how far it's spread. But researchers discovered that this variant carries a similar mutation to the B.1.1.7 variant we witnessed spring up in the U.K. last month.
The other novel coronavirus strain is spreading much more rapidly — in Columbus, Ohio. This variant features a deadly combination of mutations — some never seen before — that enhance the virus' transmissibility.
UPDATE Jan. 13, 5:20 PM EST: Report of two new variants awaits full evaluation
However, the scientists don't yet have the full picture when it comes to these new strains, Gizmodo reports. The preprint is still under preparation for publication — which means their findings have yet to undergo a full evaluation in the scientific community.
"It's important that we don't overreact to this new variant until we obtain additional data," said study co-author and Chief Scientific Officer Peter Mohler of Ohio State's Wexner Medical Center, in a press release.
UPDATE Jan. 13, 5:45 PM EST: No variants yet linked to more deadly cases of COVID-19
"We need to understand the impact of mutations on transmission of the virus, the prevalence of the strain in the population and whether it has a more significant impact on human health," added Mohler.
Needless to say, a more contagious variant of the coronavirus will create a new surge in the number of new infections — subsequently heightening the strain and tension in clinics and hospitals — scientists haven't identified a single strain with features that make COVID-19 infection more deadly to humans.
As of writing, this also holds for the earlier U.K. and South African variants.