One person in New Jersey has died from the coronavirus variant first isolated in the U.K., the state’s health commissioner revealed during a Wednesday press conference. It is the first reported variant-related death in the U.S.
Commissioner Judy Persichilli announced six new cases of the U.K. variant, bringing the state’s total to eight. Four cases were recorded in Ocean County, two in Essex, and two in Morris among those ages 10 to 65. One person had a history of international travel.
Early research has found the U.K. variant to be approximately 50% more transmissible than the original version of the coronavirus. Late last week, British health officials suggested the variant was also 30% more deadly. But Eddy Bresnitz, a top health advisor in New Jersey, said there might be weaknesses in those early findings.
“It’s certainly worrisome, but I think the jury is out on that,” Bresnitz told reporters during the Wednesday press briefing.
Spotting deaths from the variants requires the extra, rigorous step of genomic sequencing to confirm that the mutant is present in a patient’s sample. The U.S. is lagging behind other high-income nations in genomic surveillance.
“Believe it or not, we are 43rd in the world at genomic sequencing,” Jeff Zients, White House COVID Coordinator, said during a Wednesday meeting of the Biden administration’s COVID-19 response team. Officials said 308 cases of this variant had been confirmed in 26 States as of January 26th.
In New York, cases of the U.K. variant rose to 42, state officials said Wednesday.
“We don’t know exactly what is going on with the new strains,” Governor Andrew Cuomo told reporters during a press briefing. “And the concept of not knowing is very troubling for me.”
Public health restrictions in micro-cluster areas have been loosened across the state, Cuomo said. In NYC, parts of the Bronx, Queens and Washington Heights remain “yellow zones.”