State health department begins to see COVID variants impacting positivity numbers in the state


WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — State health officials believe an increase in statewide positivity rates could be the result of COVID variants reaching Indiana. Labs at Purdue have been sequencing these variants for months.

“It’s just looking at the genetic code of the virus and seeing how has it changed from the original virus that was identified in China,” explains Willie Reed, Dean of Purdue’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

The veterinary school’s animal disease diagnostic lab was one of two labs on campus to shift gears to studying COVID-19. The research can help them determine if these variants are undermining vaccines or other COVID prevention measures. They are utilizing positive samples from students and faculty on campus.

“If we start to see infections breaking through vaccination than we want to know are those variants causing them, or wild type virus?” questions Reed, “If it’s due to variants, we want to know which ones.”

So far, their preliminary data has shown the vaccines to still be effective. The most common variant in the state is B.1.1.7. Purdue has seen instances of the variant on their campus, which has allowed them to sequence the variant from positive tests. The state health department has found more than 1,100 COVID variant cases in the state. More than 800 of those cases are the B.1.1.7. variant.

“Based on the studies I’ve read, it suggests that variant (B.1.1.7.) has a propensity to spread much easier than the original wild type virus,” adds Reed.

“As these variants have taken hold, we saw an increase in our statewide positivity rate,” says Indiana State Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box.

The state health department will start including variant data on their website, however, sequencing is limited, so it will be a small sample size. Purdue researchers say they could increase those capabilities if the state sends some of their samples to the university.

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