New variant names from the WHO

We finally have a straightforward variant naming system: on May 31, the WHO announced a system using letters of the Greek alphabet. B.1.1.7 (first identified in the U.K. is now Alpha, B.1.351 (first identified in South Africa) is now Beta, and so on.

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All variant data are weeks old

It takes three to four weeks for data on a variant COVID-19 case to be made public. I have been quietly stressing out about this fact for about a month, since I learned it from Will Lee, VP of science at the genomics company Helix. This lag time includes the actual sequencing process as well as coordination with public health authorities and sequencing data repositories.

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How to talk about breakthrough cases

A lot of journalists, especially those who aren’t familiar with the science/health beat, may be inclined to publish news of breakthrough cases as surprising or monumental. In fact, these cases—referring to a COVID-19 infection that occurs after someone has been fully vaccinated—are entirely normal, yet incredibly rare. But we still need to pursue data on them.

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CDC stepped up sequencing, but the data haven’t kept pace

The CDC has stepped up its sequencing efforts in a big way over the past few months, going from 3,000 a week in early January to 10,000 a week by the end of March. But data on the results of these efforts are scarce and uneven, with some states doing far more sequencing than others. And the CDC itself publishes data with gaping holes and lags that make the numbers difficult to interpret.

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New CDC page on variants still leaves gaps

This week, the CDC published a new data page about the coronavirus variants now circulating in the U.S. The page provides estimates of how many new cases in the country may be attributed to different SARS-CoV-2 lineages, including both more familiar, wild-type variants (B.1. and B.1.2) and newer variants of concern. These new data are useful, but the page has some presentation problems

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National Numbers, March 21

Our current phase of the pandemic may be described as a race between vaccinations and the spread of variants. Right now, it’s not clear who’s winning. Despite our current vaccination pace, the U.S. reported only 10,000 fewer new cases this week than in the week prior—and rates in some states are rising.

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