What do new variants of the coronavirus mean for Texans? And how can we best protect ourselves?

A nurse conducts a swab test for COVID-19 on a patient in a drive-thru station at the Austin Emergency Center at Mueller on Jan. 25, 2021. Since the fall, the CDC says there have been several new variants identified worldwide: A UK variant (B.1.1.7), a South African variant (B1.351) and a Brazilian variant (P.1).                    Credit: Evan L’Roy/The Texas Tribune
A nurse conducts a swab test for COVID-19 on a patient in a drive-thru station at the Austin Emergency Center at Mueller on Jan. 25, 2021. Since the fall, the CDC says there have been several new variants identified worldwide: A UK variant (B.1.1.7), a South African variant (B1.351) and a Brazilian variant (P.1). Credit: Evan L’Roy/The Texas Tribune

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It's been less than a month since health officials reported the first known case of a new and more contagious coronavirus variant in Texas. The man, a Harris County resident, had no travel history. That likely means the variant had already circulated the county or Texas, health experts said.

As of Jan. 25, Texas had seven of these cases, including in Dallas and Nueces counties, said Dr. Sherri Onyiego, the local health authority for Harris County. The variant known as B.1.1.7 was first identified in the United Kingdom. And just this week, a Brazilian variant of the virus, known as P.1, was discovered in Minnesota and a South African variant known as B.1.351 was identified in South Carolina. Texas health experts say even though vaccinations are ramping up, people should continue taking precautions to avoid exposure to the virus, especially with the emergence of these new variants.

Texas has distributed more than 2.1 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But the state is still months away from the vaccine being available to most Texans.

"We're obviously enthusiastic and optimistic about the vaccines being deployed, but we just don't have enough of the supply to meet the current demand," said Onyiego. "That's why we are going to have to rely on those tried and true prevention measures."

But what else must Texans know and do to keep each other safe? Here's what Texas health experts say.

How many different coronavirus variants are there?

Viruses frequently change by mutating, and the coronavirus is no exception. But Texans shouldn't panic or stop taking preventive measures, says Dr. Diana Cervantes, assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of North Texas Health Center at Fort Worth.