Virginia health experts working with labs to find out how COVID-19 variants spread

Coronavirus

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) – The first case of the new COVID-19 variant, originally found in the United Kingdom last year, has been found in Virginia according to the Virginia Department of Health.

The variant has been identified in a sample from an adult in Northern Virginia with no recent travel history.

The Department of General Services Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services, or DCLS, confirmed the case using next-generation sequencing.

The B.1.1.7 variant first emerged in the U.K. in late 2020 and experts say it spreads more quickly between people than other strains. They’re currently working to learn whether or not it cases more severe illness.

“Viruses change all the time, and we expect to see new strains as disease spreads,” said State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver, MD, MA. “As our state public health officials closely monitor the emergence of the B.1.1.7 variant in our Commonwealth, it is important that all Virginians continue following mitigation measures.”

As of last week, nearly 200 cases of the variant have been found in 23 states.

DCLS began sequencing back in March of last year, and says they’re currently working with other labs across in the state to solicit more samples to get a representation of variants spreading throughout the Commonwealth. So far, the department says it’s sequenced more than 10 percent of positive samples tested by the state lab.

Early research shows the current vaccines are effective against the new variant, though experts are working to learn its effectiveness moving forward.

“We don’t have a clear understanding as to how the vaccine will work out in the real world,” VCU’s Chief of Infectious Disease Dr. Gonzalo Bearman told 8News. “Against that vaccine. time will tell. There is a concern, however, that could have a different impact than the U.K. variant and could result in potentially more infections, and potentially more severe infections which are less preventable by the vaccine.”

Experts believe this variant will become the most dominant form in the U.S. by March.

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