RICHMOND, Va. – Another variant of COVID-19 has been found in the Commonwealth.
The Virginia Department of Health announced Wednesday that the first case of the SARS-CoV-2 variant B.1.1.7 has been identified in a sample from an adult who lives in Central Virginia. This person reportedly had no history of travel during the exposure period.
The B.1.1.7 variant, which first emerged in the United Kingdom in late 2020, is associated with increased person-to-person transmission of COVID-19. A preliminary report from experts in the United Kingdom indicates that this variant causes more severe illness than other variants, but more studies are needed to confirm this finding.
The Department of General Services Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services (DCLS) confirmed the case using next-generation sequencing that provides a genetic blueprint of the virus that causes COVID-19.
In addition to this case of the B.1.1.7 variant, 11 other cases of the B.1.1.7 variant and three cases of the SARS-CoV-2 B.1.351 variant (first identified in South Africa) have now been identified in Virginia as of February 24. With the combined state and national surveillance efforts, VDH officials say it is likely that additional cases with SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern will be identified.
Viruses change all the time, and VDH expects to see new variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus as disease spreads. As public health officials closely monitor the emergence of these SARS-CoV-2 variants in our Commonwealth, the state health department says it is critical that all Virginians comply now with mitigation measures. They say the more people that become infected, the greater that chance the virus will mutate and a variant will arise that could undermine the current vaccination efforts.
Public health recommendations for stopping the spread of COVID-19 will work for all COVID-19 variants. This means wearing masks correctly, staying at least six feet from others, avoiding crowds, washing hands often, getting vaccinated for COVID-19 when it is your turn and staying home if you are infected with COVID-19 or if you have had close contact with someone with COVID-19.
DCLS began sequencing positive COVID-19 samples in March 2020, becoming one of the first public health labs in the nation to use this technology to examine the genetic makeup of the virus and track how it is changing and being transmitted in the Commonwealth. DCLS is working with other labs in Virginia to solicit additional positive samples to sequence so public health officials can get a representation of variants circulating throughout Virginia.
For more information about COVID-19 variants, visit the VDH COVID-19 Testing website and the CDC New COVID-19 Variants website. For more information on DCLS and its use of next-generation sequencing, visit dgs.virginia.gov/dcls.