UK variant of coronavirus found in University of Virginia community

UK variant of coronavirus found in University of Virginia community
The rotunda at the University of Virginia on a snowy February. (Source: WVIR)

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - The UK variant of the coronavirus has arrived in Charlottesville. The University of Virginia has its first cases of the variant, though it could not share how many people it has infected.

The CDC has said the UK variant, known as B.1.1.7, spreads more easily and quickly than other variants.

University officials have been expecting this. They say they’ve even planned for it. So now that a new variant is here, they say it’s a reminder to take extra precaution.

“With or without variants, the plan we have in place is adequate to respond to the cases that we have as long as people follow it,” said Brian Coy, a spokesperson for the University of Virginia.

The plan that Coy spoke about was what the university entered the spring semester following. But the 7-day average of new student cases has risen from just under six at the beginning of the month to nearly 25 a day.

“One of the things that gives us confidence that the variant strains may be widespread is that we just see cases going up faster than they have in previous times,” Coy said.

He also says the university planned for that instance of rising cases.

“We have ramped up our testing protocols significantly,” he said. “One of the most important things you can do when someone contract COVID-19 is basically find out as quickly as you can and then build walls around the virus.”

He also addressed new CDC guidance about mask-wearing.

“Any mask is better than no mask at all,” he said. “But two masks are better than one as long as they’re fitted properly.”

Coy says the university has purchased “tens of thousands” of three-ply masks and provided them to frontline workers, as well as “anyone in our community who wants them as an extra precaution.”

But if cases keep on rising, and expanded isolation and quarantine space become limited, UVA may take more restrictive measures.

“We can shift a lot more classes online, we can issue strong guidance about where people can and can’t travel on and off grounds,” Coy said. “These are not things that we want to do and we have the power to avoid them if we all do the right things for each other.”

When asked about the confidence level among university leadership, Coy said confidence isn’t a word you can really use about the virus, but they are confident in the caliber and caring of the people in their community.

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