Indiana to begin testing for new COVID-19 variant Jan. 1

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Colorado health officials say a new COVID-19 variant is spreading in the U-S.

On Wednesday, Dr. Rachel Herlihy, the state’s epidemiologist, said a Colorado National Guard member has the first reported U.S. case of a COVID-19 variant, known as B.1.1.7, and a second case is suspected in another Guard member.

Shandy Dearth, Director of the Undergraduate Epidemiology Program at IUPUI’s Fairbanks School of Public Health, said health officials in the United Kingdom first discovered the variant back in September.

“[Virus] variants happen all the time and they’ve been happening with COVID-19,” said Dearth. “The concern here is that this particular variant has a lot of mutations – more than normal.”

Dearth said the state health department already has the capability to test for the variant here in central Indiana. She said beginning Friday, ten randomized samples will be sent from the state to the CDC’s National Surveillance Program.

“Each state starting in January, so Friday, will send samples to CDC every two weeks to look for these variants in some of these mutations,” said Dearth. “So they’re doing additional sequencing at the CDC in addition to the state health department labs.”

So far, scientists in Britain have found no evidence that the new variant is more lethal or causes more severe symptoms, and they believe the vaccines now being dispensed will be effective against it.

“As we’ve seen with the COVID-19 we’ve all been living with, it’s already contagious enough. It’s very hard to contain,” said Dearth.

Dearth said despite a new variant, safety precautions should remain the same – mask up, social distance, and wash hands frequently. She said the variants increased transmission rate is even more of a reason to stay home this holiday season.

Dr. Rachel Herlihy, Colorado’s epidemiologist, said the two guardsmen were deployed on Dec. 23 to a nursing home with an outbreak of the virus in a small town outside Denver.

She appeared in a virtual briefing with Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, who said the man in his 20s with the confirmed case was recovering in isolation and had mild symptoms.

The variant is most likely still rare in the U.S., but Dr. Herlihy said neither guardsmen has traveled outside the U.S. – a lack of travel history that means it is spreading.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if we see more states reporting in the coming days,” said Dearth.

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