SALT LAKE CITY – A new, more contagious variant of COVID-19 originating in the UK has been detected in Utah, state health officials announced on Friday.
The variant, also known as B.1.1.7, was detected in a man from Salt Lake County who tested positive last month and was between 25 and 44 years old, according to a news release from the Utah Department of Health. The man had no travel history outside Utah and had only mild symptoms, the release said.
The UK’s SARS-CoV-2 virus variant is thought to spread more quickly and easily than other mutations, but there is no evidence that it is more lethal, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This variant was first detected in the US in Colorado.
“It’s a tough time to have a more contagious virus, considering it’s winter, people are in a lot more,” said the epidemiologist from the Utah Department of Health, Dr. Angela Dunn. “The holiday season is just over, and people are frankly tired of all the public health recommendations we are making. So, in combination with not enough vaccine to be dispensed, that’s worrying.”
Dr. Kelly Oakeson, chief bioinformatics and next-generation sequencing scientist at The Utah Public Health Laboratory, explained that the cases were found through testing the genetic profile of positive cases. He said there were 17 different mutations to the British variant they found during testing that led to confirmation.
Both he and Dunn say they believe the variant has been in Utah for some time and there are likely to be more cases.
“I believe it is broader,” said Oakeson. “We don’t rank every positive sample, so we only rank about 10% – in a few months a little bit less than that. So if we detect this quickly since we were looking for it, this suggests to us that it may be wider than just this one individual. . “
Salt Lake County health officials carried out routine case investigations after the Utah case was detected, including contact tracing, for the variant case.
The Utah discovery was announced at the same time The CDC publishes research papers which acknowledged new variants were detected in 10 states between 29 December 2020 and Tuesday. The researchers say that current models project that the strain will become the dominant strain in the US by March.
While not known to be deadlier, researchers warn that it could create more problems if it leads to a spike in COVID-19 transmission. The COVID-19 vaccine currently approved for use is also believed to be effective against the British variant of the virus; However, the new variant poses problems for vaccination efforts if it spreads faster than people who can be vaccinated.
They advise individuals to continue to take action to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.
“The increase in SARS-CoV-2 transmission could threaten strained health care resources, require the adoption of a longer and more stringent public health strategy and increase the percentage of population immunity required for pandemic control,” the researchers wrote in the paper.
Dunn raised the concerns Friday afternoon. He pointed out that herd immunity through vaccination is unlikely to be achieved until summer or fall, and positive cases are believed to only confer immunity around 90 days. Additionally, the new variant could lead to an increase in cases in a short period of time, potentially causing hospital tensions to continue or worsen across the state – as warned by the CDC newspaper.
“I think this puts another spin on how we respond to this pandemic, knowing that our hospital ICU is overcapacity and we are at the beginning of a potential surge in cases because of this new variant,” he said.
Britain is responding to the new tensions with new countrywide closings. Utah has no definite recommendations or plans regarding the new variant, Dunn added.
Utah’s total current COVID-19 cases and positivity levels remain high but again slowly declining, however there is a chance another spike could come with K-12 and higher education classes returning this month and a more contagious variant documented in the state. As experts pointed out on Friday, the variant spreads faster among younger individuals in the UK because the group is more likely to be where the spread occurs.
Dunn is optimistic that testing protocols such as the on-campus spike testing for the start of the semester could find new cases before leading to widespread new case growth. However, he also realized that the timing of the new strains reached Utah was not ideal.
“It is more contagious, more contagious than other variants of COVID, and now more than ever we need to practice good public health practices by wearing face masks, staying at home when we are sick, avoiding large gatherings and physically keeping as far as we can. , “he said. “We really need to be extra careful moving forward until we get more people vaccinated so they don’t overwhelm our health care system.”