NYSDOH keeps thousands of contact tracers, says it’s watching COVID variants

ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — New Yorkers are moving on from the COVID pandemic, but health organizations are still monitoring the potential threat posed by variants here and abroad.

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There has been much talk nationally and internationally about the delta variant. Classified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as a variant of concern, the delta variant is more contagious than other strains. Yale Medicine said this could lead to clusters of cases locally, particularly among unvaccinated groups.

State testing sites have been shut down, but the New York State Department of Health (DOH) is still monitoring cases. They said that 4,161 state-contracted contact tracing staff remain to contact individuals as needed.

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“While New York’s continued case decline is welcome news, contact tracing is still occurring as a necessary tool to stop virus spread,” DOH said Wednesday.

The percentage of variants found among New Yorkers is increasing, similar trends throughout the country, said DOH. However, instances of the delta variant remain lower than other variants, they said.

The delta variant, also known as B.1.617.2, was first discovered in India. The CDC said it is also monitoring three other COVID variants in the U.S.: alpha, or B.1.1.7, which was first detected in the U.K; beta, or B.1.351 , which was first detected in South Africa; and gamma, or P.1, which was first detected in two people from Brazil.

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The delta variant has been identified in 172 cases in New York, as reported to GISAID, DOH said. GISAID is an initiative that lets data about contagions like influenza and COVID to be shared and accessed quickly. Though the initiative may not sound familiar, it began its work in 2008.

The Wadsworth Center has been working to identify COVID variants since spring 2020, according to its website. They are still sequencing approximately 90 specimens a day.

“We look at the whole sequence of the virus, which means we have the ability to compare and contrast sequences with all of those currently available. To date, Wadsworth has sequenced approximately 12,934 virus samples statewide, with most specimens selected at random from throughout the state,” Wadsworth Center said.

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It’s normal for viruses to mutate and there was some initial concern COVID vaccines may be ineffective against variants. “So far, studies suggest that the current authorized vaccines work on the circulating variants,” the CDC said.

Moderna said its COVID vaccine was shown to be effective against a host of variants in a press release Tuesday. According to Yale Medicine, Pfizer’s vaccine was shown to be 88% effective in preventing symptomatic COVID in a United Kingdom study but that the study had yet to be peer reviewed.

“Those who are unvaccinated have the greatest risk of becoming seriously ill, which is why the New York State Department of Health urges all eligible New Yorkers to get vaccinated as soon as they are able,” DOH said.

People who are unvaccinated are required to wear a mask in public and when unable to socially distance. This will be effective until September 21, unless it gets extended or permanently adopted, DOH said.

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