BURLINGTON — The Vermont Department of Health has confirmed that genomic sequencing of COVID-19 specimens has now identified two of the variants of concern circulating in the U.S.
In addition to results earlier this month of the B.1.1.7 variant that originated in the U.K., recent lab results now show the B.1.429 strain, first identified in California, is also in Vermont.
The B.1.1.7 variant has now been found in eight specimens, and the B.1.429 variant was detected in three specimens. The detections were found in samples from Chittenden and Franklin Counties, with one sample’s county of origin pending.
Viruses constantly change through mutation, and new variants and strains are to be expected. Many emerge and disappear, but others can persist and even become the predominant strain.
The Health Department has sent 98 select samples to the Massachusetts Public Health Laboratory, Molecular Diagnostics and Virology program for genetic sequencing. The department also sent 60 samples to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The specimens are taken from people who had already tested positive for COVID-19.
Health officials said while it is not surprising that the variants continue to be detected, it reinforces concerns of increased cases, illness and outbreaks.
“These variants of the COVID-19 virus can move more easily from person to person,” said Health Commissioner Mark Levine, MD. “This is setting us up for a race of sorts between the presence of strains of a highly contagious virus, our rapidly progressing vaccination program and the need for each of us to continue to focus on prevention and getting tested.”
Medical studies are ongoing, but show the current vaccines are effective against these variants, and the state’s plan for vaccination is moving quickly and well. Dr. Levine cautioned, however, that with parts of the state showing a plateau or even an uptick in COVID-19 activity in Vermont, it is still important that people double-down on efforts to prevent spreading the virus.
“All prevention measures apply, and are critical if we are to stay ahead of the virus and give ourselves the couple of months more we need to get all eligible Vermonters vaccinated,” Dr. Levine said.
The Health Department urges people to follow state guidance, including:
- Wear a mask
- Stay at least 6 feet apart
- Avoid crowded places
Dr. Levine also emphasized the importance of staying home and away from work if you are sick, skipping events – especially team sports, and getting tested if you have or even think you may have symptoms of COVID-19.
“Testing as early as possible is important for your health and the people around you,” Dr. Levine said. “Remember that symptoms can sometimes be mild, such as a headache, cough, fatigue or a runny nose. So, if you have even just one of these symptoms, it’s best to get tested, and to avoid going to work, school or other places until you receive a negative result.”