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First case of UK COVID-19 variant detected in Virginia

Richmond Public Schools says an employee has tested positive for COVID-19.
Richmond Public Schools says an employee has tested positive for COVID-19.(Coronavirus graphic)
Updated: Jan. 25, 2021 at 5:07 PM EST
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - The Virginia Department of Health and Department of General Services Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services has identified the first case of a COVID-19 variant in Virginia, which was first detected in the United Kingdom.

The first case of the SARS-CoV-2 variant B.1.1.7 was found in a sample from an adult in Northern Virginia with no reported recent travel history.

The B.1.1.7 variant, which was first found in the UK in late 2020, is associated with increased person-to-person transmission of COVID-19.

The DCLS has notified the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of the case.

“Viruses change all the time, and we expect to see new strains as disease spreads,” said State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver, MD, MA. “We know this variant strain spreads more quickly between people than other strains currently circulating in our communities, but we still have more to learn about whether it causes more severe illness. 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.”

Nearly 200 cases of the variant have been detected in 23 states across the United States as of Jan. 22.

“As a virus spreads from one person to another, it makes copies of itself and sometimes makes small genetic changes called mutations. Because of these mutations, new variants of a virus are expected to occur over time. According to the CDC, multiple variants of the virus that causes COVID-19 have been documented in the United States and around the world. The B.1.1.7 variant contains an unusually large number of mutations,” the VDH said in a release.

DCLS started sequencing positive COVID-19 samples in March 2020 to better understand the genetic makeup of the virus and track how it changes and spreads in the Commonwealth.

“Sequencing is one of many tools we have available at the state’s public health laboratory to enable medical and public health officials to quickly identify and respond to threats such as emerging COVID-19 variants,” said Dr. Denise Toney, Director of DCLS. “We share this information not only within the Commonwealth, but with our federal and international partners to gain a better understanding of emerging genetic changes to SARS-CoV-2.”

Scientists are still trying to understand the variant’s impact on vaccine efficacy, but early data suggests vaccines currently in use are effective against the new variant.

For more information on the COVID-19 variants, click here.

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