OREGON -- Dangerous and fast-spreading variant strains of COVID-19 continue to make their way to the United States -- including here in Oregon.
Four cases of the UK COVID-19 variant have been detected in Oregon so far, according to the CDC. It’s identified as B.1.1.7. The CDC said the UK variant spreads quicker than other variants and could be associated with an increased risk of death, according to UK experts.
Officials say there is still much to learn about the variants, such as ones from South Africa and Brazil.
This has health officials on high alert as experts continue to learn more about the impact on counties’ fight to slow the spread.
KEZI 9 News asked Lane County Public Health officials about their capacity to track these variants through testing if they were to show up. Spokesman Jason Davis said public health is limited.
“What we know about the variants is that they’re here, and the reason we know that is that they have been identified through wastewater detection and through samples that have had gene sequencing done,” Davis said.
He said partners of the county have been working actively on the process and setting up methodology for when funding arrives.
Davis said the county has heard that there will be money directly allocated toward gene sequencing at a local public health level.
“We have not seen that happen,” Davis said. “Most all of this has been done either through higher education partners or through the state. We are anxious to receive some of that funding.”
He said this would help long-term, especially outside of the three to four variants many know about.
KEZI 9 News also spoke to PeaceHealth’s Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Bob Pelz.
“This virus like any virus will continue to evolve and develop new mutations,” Pelz said. “Some of those just by random chance will either make them easier to transmit or give them the ability to escape the vaccine.”
He said the University of Oregon started doing gene sequencing last week to detect variant viruses, and Oregon State has done the same for weeks along with Oregon Health & Science University.
Oregon State University has detected multiple mutant strains of COVID-19 in Oregon, including the highly contagious U.K. strain in one sample from Bend.
“If a virus is easier to spread, then it becomes the main virus that you see in a community,” Pelz said.
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