Health officials working to understand COVID-19 variants in Virginia

Posted at 2:51 PM, Mar 26, 2021

HAMPTON ROADS, Va. – Virginia health officials say there are several hundred cases of variants of COVID-19 in the Commonwealth but believe that number to be very underestimated.

“This is completely expected. Viruses mutate; this is what they do,” said Dr. Edward Oldfield, a professor of medicine at EVMS. “There are over 200 variants circulating in the United States right now, but only four them are in that category of variant of concern.”

He said the concerning variants are the UK, South African, Brazilian and Californian strains. Click here to learn more about them.

“They’re usually called by where they are first detected,” said Oldfield.

Different variants have different problems associated with each one, and they have been detected in Virginia.

During a recent press conference, Dr. M. Norman Oliver with the Virginia Department of Health said, “We have recorded somewhere around a couple hundred case cases of the variants. We suspect that it’s far more than that.”

State health officials say they test positive COVID-19 tests for variants and are currently trying to understand them more.

Oliver said the state is in the process of forming up contracts with a couple academic partners so they can expand their capability of understanding the different variants in Virginia.

“Viruses are very interesting creature, and a lot of people debate on whether are they living creatures or not because they don’t check the boxes for what life is,” said Dr. Bogdan Neughebauer, an infectious disease physician at Sentara. “They don’t have a brain or any other structures; they’re just a genetic code, and it’s interesting that they always find a way to adjust and survive. They use us as vectors to transmit each other to other individuals.”

“All viruses mutate, but the coronavirus only mutates half as much as influenza and only about a quarter as much as HIV, so in some ways we are fortunate and have a slowly mutating virus,” said Oldfield.

He said viruses have this amazing ability to change their genetic composition. In other words, mutating when it comes to COVID-19 is no different than other viruses.

Health experts encourage everyone to get a vaccination and say it’s the best form of protection.

“The more people that get it and the faster they get it, the better we are at curbing the chance of this virus becoming very resistant,” said Neughebauer. “I think people really need to realize that we’re in a race with the virus. If a virus is able to mutate and find different ways of surviving before we reach that critical mass of herd immunity, we may have to look at another vaccinations to try to catch up to the viruses.”

Related: COVID-19 variants: Vaccine effectiveness and staying vigilant

“We are in a race to get people vaccinated so they don’t fall victim to that variance,” said Oliver.

“Prevent new infections - that’s number one. If we prevent new infections, the virus can’t reproduce can’t mutate,” said Oldfield.

Click here for full coronavirus coverage.