(NEXSTAR) — There are at least seven distinct variants of COVID-19 that appear to have originated in the U.S., according to a study published Sunday.
The study, which is preprint and has yet to be peer-reviewed, found the seven homegrown variants share the same mutation.
The researchers also discovered that the variants’ genetic mutation is similar to that of the variants identified in the U.K. and South Africa. Researchers have determined the highly contagious U.K. variant may be up to 70 percent more deadly than the novel SARS-Cov2 virus — and the link between the U.S. and U.K. variants is worrying researchers.
One U.S. variant the researchers discovered, Q677P, was first detected in October and accounted for a worrisome 27.8 percent of cases in Louisiana between Dec. 1 and Jan. 19.
“There’s clearly something going on with this mutation,” Jeremy Kamil, a virologist and a co-author of the study, told the New York Times. “…I think there’s a clear signature of evolutionary benefit.”
In the study, the authors urge for further research of the variants, as it’s not yet clear how widespread they are and whether they are more contagious.
After averaging roughly 3,500 daily deaths from COVID-19 at the beginning of 2021, the United States is in a far better situation for battling the virus amid a global pandemic that’s killed more than 2.3 million people worldwide.
Though the average death toll remains substantially higher than the country’s first case peak in April and May of 2020, statistics have dropped over the last three weeks to an average of 2,500 daily deaths, according to a tally by the New York Times.
That number is expected to continue to fall as hospitalizations decline. Over the last two weeks, the number of people in hospitals battling COVID has fallen 27%.
For the first time since early November, the rolling average of new cases per day fell below 100,000 on Friday and stayed below the threshold Saturday.
Even with the improved outlook, however, lives are still being lost at a rate of about 21,000 per week.
The lower case count is still more than twice what the U.S. saw over the summer, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“It’s encouraging to see these trends coming down, but they’re coming down from an extraordinarily high place,” Walensky said.
There have been 482,000 deaths from COVID-19 in the United States since the beginning of the pandemic.