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In a new preprint study, researchers say they have identified the variants first identified in the UK, Brazil, South Africa and California in patients from the Houston metro area.

Researchers from Houston Methodist and elsewhere say it’s the “first city in the United States to have all variants documented by genome sequencing,” although sequencing is done for only a small number of coronavirus cases around the United States and does not capture the overall prevalence of the variants. 

The report, which was posted on Tuesday and has not been published or peer-reviewed, said the finding “is not unexpected but it is disquieting,” and called it a “testament to our aggressive sequencing of COVID-19 patient samples.”

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists the B.1.1.7 variant first identified in the UK, the B.1.351 first identified in South Africa, and the P.1. first identified in Brazil as “variants of concern” and track incidences of these variants. The variants may be more transmissible than others.

According to the CDC’s most recent update, as of March 2, there are at least 2,572 cases of coronavirus variants across the country. Florida and Maryland have also identified all three of the CDC’s “variants of concern.”

The CDC says this does not represent the total number of such cases circulating in the US, but just those that have been found by analyzing positive samples. The agency cautions that its numbers may not immediately match those of state and local health departments.

The authors also note that the variants were found widely spread across the Houston area, “indicating successful patient-to-patient transmission.”

They added that none of the patients were from a common household or reported any recent international travel, “suggesting that every infection was independently acquired locally or during domestic travel.” 

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced Tuesday he’s lifting the mask mandate in Texas, even as health officials warn not to ease safety restrictions.



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