BESIDES the Alpha and Delta variants, new mutations of the coronavirus are also being tracked, including the Mu variant, Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. Chief Executive Officer Esther L. Muna said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services continue to closely monitor Covid-19 variants, she added.
According to the CDC, the variants have been classified into three classes: variant of interest, variant of concern, and variant of high consequence.
Variants of interest are variants with specific genetic markers that have been associated with changes to receptor binding, reduced neutralization by antibodies generated against previous infection or vaccination, reduced efficacy of treatments, potential diagnostic impact, or predicted increase in transmissibility or disease severity.
These include the Eta, Iota, Kappa, and B.1.617.3 variants.
Variants of concern are variants for which there is evidence of an increase in transmissibility, more severe disease, increased hospitalizations or deaths, significant reduction in neutralization by antibodies generated during previous infection or vaccination, reduced effectiveness of treatments or vaccines, or diagnostic detection failures.
These include the Alpha, Beta, Delta, and Gamma variants.
Variants of high consequence are variants that have clear evidence that prevention measures or medical countermeasures have significantly reduced effectiveness relative to previously circulating variants.
There are currently no variants that rise to the level of high consequence.
Muna said the CNMI is carefully tracking its own data which has helped in the implementation of Covid-19 protocols in the islands, including quarantine procedures.
However, in order to understand the threat that these novel variants pose, more data needs to be collected and studied, she said.
“These are new variants and they’re always, again, looking at data. A lot of it is about data. For example, when we looked at vaccination as a way of determining which individuals get to stay at home…. We were already seeing people that were vaccinated coming up positive. We were very careful with that. That’s why we’ve never stopped testing,” Muna said.
She said certain individuals want the fifth-day testing requirement to be removed, but CHCC has advised otherwise due to breakthrough cases, or cases in which vaccinated individuals were found to be carriers of the virus.
“With the Mu variant, it is likely that we need to get more data in order for us to see if it is a threat or not, or worse than the Delta variant or not. We don’t know yet. Right now, I know that CDC and basically the HHS are monitoring it closely. As more cases are identified, then they will be able to say what it is about,” Muna said.
“Right now, we have more information about the Delta variant... What we’re trying to do is get more people vaccinated so that we can fight this. Vaccination is the best defense for protection from hospitalization and severe illness.”
Gov. Ralph DLG Torres, for his part, said Covid-19 “is not going to go away any time soon... [To] those who have been vaccinated, thank you very much. We are one step closer to our goal. To those who have not been vaccinated, please come in and get vaccinated, most importantly our students, our teachers, our staff in PSS, NMC, NMTI, our private sector.”
The governor noted that on the neighboring island of Guam, the Delta variant has been identified in schools.
We’re seeing it at a national level... The answer to this is the more we get our community members vaccinated, the safer we are,” he added.
As of Thursday evening, 79.9% of the eligible CNMI population, or 33,847 individuals, had been fully vaccinated.
The CHCC anticipates that the CNMI will reach an 80% vaccination rate by Saturday.