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UB research finds more COVID-19 variants in Erie County

University at Buffalo research identified 4 highly transmissible COVID-19 variants in Erie County.

ERIE COUNTY, N.Y. — Erie County health commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein announced Thursday that more COVID-19 variants have been found here in Erie County.

Last week the health department said "California" variants had been detected in some Erie County residents. More variants have been found since, according to discoveries at the University at Buffalo’s New York State Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences.

"We do have these circulating variants of concern in our community, and it's just the tip of the iceberg, and we know these variants are an increased risk of transmission," Dr. Burstein said. "We know there will be more transmission in our community when we have these variants in our community."

The health department says the California variant shows a 20 percent increase in transmission, and that the United Kingdom variant shows a 50 percent increase in transmission.

Recently Erie County has seen an increase in COVD-19 cases and hospitalizations. Dr. Burstein attributes that increase to these new, more contagious variants.

"And so we believe that this is significantly attributing to the higher COVID-19 case numbers that we are seeing in our community, and as a result, if we're seeing more people falling ill with COVID-19, we'd expect to see more people hospitalized with COVID-19," she continued.

University at Buffalo's research found 42 samples out of 138 collected from Erie County residents in February and March included variants.

"The so-called 'California' variant, which were originally identified in California, and this is the B.1.427 and B.1429 lineage, these have been shown to have increased transmissibility, and to also compromise the use of certain monoclonal antibody therapeutics approved by the FDA," according to UB Associate Professor of Biochemistry Jennifer A. Surtees, Ph.D.

Dr. Burstein said because these COVID-19 variants are more contagious and could create a lower response to COVID-19 treatments, she is urging people to continue to follow public health measures.

"We are still not out of the woods," Dr. Burstein said. "We still have to continue to social distance as much as we can. When people are going to get together for the weekend, please keep the numbers small, and please do as much outdoors, instead of indoors. Outdoors decreases the risk."

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