"I think the virus is changing to grow on people more efficiently," said Frederic Bushman, Ph.D.
Dr. Bushman is a professor of microbiology at the University of Pennsylvania and part of the team sequencing to find variants of COVID-19 in the Delaware Valley.
"It's worrisome that we are seeing variants appear in greater frequency. The B.1.1.7, U.K. derived variant, New York-derived variant, Brazil-derived variant are all increasing in proportion of the total," he said.
Out of those, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention classifies the variants first detected in the U.K. and Brazil as variants of concern because they've been proven in people to be more transmissible.
The CDC recently added the B.1.617 variant discovered in India as a variant of interest. Despite the dire situation there, and surge of cases and deaths, Dr. Bushman says we don't know yet if the variant is to blame.
"There's so much going on in India, the crowding, the people gathering without masks - that it's hard to point to any one thing and say for sure that's the reason for the spread," he said.
That variant has been detected so far in three states in the United States. Dr. Bushman says it's likely only a matter of time until we see it here.
But there's good news.
"Mask wearing works against all the variants, so wear your mask, keep up social distancing and these variants may diminish vaccine responses a little, but not a lot, so vaccines still work," said Dr. Bushman.
The lab at Penn will continue to test for variants so they can spot concerning trends quickly. They will update the site weekly.
For more information and to see those updates, visit: Penn Medicine Variants Surveillance