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Eight traces of the B.1.1.7 COVID-19 variant were found in the Philadelphia area.

Credit: Max Mester

A new analysis by the Perelman School of Medicine finds more than a third of new cases of COVID-19 in Philadelphia are caused by more contagious variants of the virus.

A group of researchers analyzed 80 genome sequences in positive COVID-19 samples from the Philadelphia area, and found that 35% of the samples resemble variants of the virus originating from New York, the United Kingdom, California, Brazil and South Africa, Penn Medicine News reported.

Chair of the Department of Microbiology Frederic Bushman, who participated in the analysis, told Penn Medicine News the findings highlight the importance of taking measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“The proportion of worrisome viral variants is rising, so it is critical for everyone to keep up precautions such as mask-wearing, and to get vaccinated when your turn comes up,” Bushman told Penn Medicine News.

The analysis found eight traces of the B.1.1.7 originating from the United Kingdom among the samples, Penn Medicine News reported. The analysis also found 14 cases linked to the New York variant B.1.526, one linked to California variant B.1.427, and another linked to California variant B.1.429. Other genome sequences reflected variants originating from Brazil and South Africa.

Each variant is considered a concern by experts. The B.1.1.7 variant originating from the United Kingdom is more contagious than previous variants and amounts to more than twenty percent of new COVID-19 cases in the United States, according to The New York Times. Another variant, New York variant B.1.526, was found to lead to more frequent hospitalizations.

Philadelphia Health Commissioner Thomas Farley told Penn Medicine News that vaccinations are an important step in protecting against variants of COVID-19.

“Our best response to this risk is still for everyone to be vaccinated as soon as they are eligible,” Farley said.

The Center for Disease Control reports that current data suggest vaccines should still be effective against new variants of COVID-19. Currently, more than five million people in Pennsylvania have received doses of the vaccine.