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World Health Organization COVID-19 technical lead Maria Van Kerkhove. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images

The World Health Organization announced Monday a new naming system for COVID-19 variants that uses letters from the Greek alphabet.

Why it matters: Health officials have been concerned that the strains' scientific names, comprising numbers and letters, are leading people to refer to them by the place they were detected, such as the "U.K. variant" for B.1.1.7, which the WHO notes in a Twitter post "is stigmatizing & discriminatory."

A tweet previously embedded here has been deleted or was tweeted from an account that has been suspended or deleted.
  • The WHO's COVID-19 technical lead Maria Van Kerkhove said in a statement Monday, "No country should be stigmatized for detecting and reporting variants."
  • The WHO said that while the labels don't replace the scientific names, referring to them with letters of the Greek alphabet in public discussions makes it easier for people to say and remember.

How it works: Under the new system the WHO is encouraging countries to call variants of concern by the following names during public discussions:

  • B.1.1.7 becomes "Alpha;" B.1.351, first detected in South Africa, is now "Beta;" P.1, first found in Brazil, is "Gamma and; B.1.617.2, first detected in India, is called "Delta."

"Variants of interest" take the following new public names:

  • B.1.427/B.1.429, first detected in the U.S., takes the name "Epsilon;" P.2, first found in Brazil, becomes "Zeta;" B.1.525, detected in "multiple countries," is called "Eta;" P.3, which originated in the Philippines, is "Theta;" B.1.526, first identified in the U.S., is now "Iota" and; B.1.617.1, first detected in India, is referred to as "Kappa."

Go deeper

May 31, 2021 - Health

Mobile COVID vaccination units head to rural communities and small towns

Mobile Vaccination Unit in Pennsylvania. Photo: Ben Hasty/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images

Health officials across the United States are deploying mobile vaccination units in an effort to distribute COVID-19 vaccines to rural and other hard-to-reach communities.

Why it matters: As vaccination distribution slows nationwide, health officials are looking for ways to reach rural communities, homeless people and poorer Americans who can't take time off of work, lack child care or can't travel to vaccination sites, the New York Times reported.

May 31, 2021 - Health

America's summer of normalcy

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Memorial Day marks the unofficial start to summer — and post-pandemic life.

The big picture: Even the most cautious Americans are beginning to shake off a lot of the isolation of the past year and live that “new normal” we’ve been talking about for so long.

You’ve caught up. Now what?

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