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UK variant of COVID-19 found in West Virginia

Published: Feb. 19, 2021 at 9:09 PM EST|Updated: Feb. 20, 2021 at 7:01 PM EST
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MORGANTOWN, W. Va.— West Virginia University scientists knew it was coming.

When health officials confirmed the first three cases of a COVID-19 variant in West Virginia late Friday (Feb. 19), they were not surprised. In fact, WVU researchers had, in recent weeks, already formed a partnership with colleagues at Marshall University and the Department of Health and Human Resources to identify SARS-CoV-2 variants.

Utilizing an automated system and whole genome sequencing, the team – led by Peter StoilovPeter Perrotta and Ryan Percifield at WVU and Jim Denvir and Don Primerano at Marshall – is set to analyze hundreds of samples per week from across the state.

“Ongoing surveillance and focused efforts to characterize the virus in areas of outbreak will identify the SARS-CoV-2 variants that may impact the future of the COVID-19 pandemic in West Virginia,” said Laura Gibson, senior associate vice president of Research and Graduate Education, WVU Health Sciences. “And it will detect new variants that arrive from outside or emerge in the state.”

“Identification of the UK CoV-2 variant represents the efforts of a team of investigators at Marshall University, West Virginia University, the WV DHHR and QLabs,” said Primerano, professor and vice chair of biomedical sciences at the Marshall University Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine. “Dr. Jim Denvir at Marshall University developed the analytic pipeline for calling the virus genetic variants based on whole genome sequence data derived from SARS-CoV-2 positive cases. This ongoing collaboration is designed to detect CoV-2 variants across the state and guide efforts to control and contain the virus.”

The three cases confirmed thus far are of the variant B.1.1.7, originally detected in the United Kingdom and more commonly referred to as the ‘UK Variant.’ Forty-two other states, including those that border West Virginia, have reported 1,523 cases.

The strain is believed to be more contagious than the original virus that causes COVID-19. Recent data, however, suggests that the existing vaccines can drastically curtail severe infections resulting from the variants.

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Three cases of the COVID-19 variant B.1.1.7, or more commonly referred to as the UK Variant, have been detected in West Virginia. Forty-two other states have reported 1,523 cases, including all the bordering states to West Virginia.

The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) has collaborated with West Virginia University and Marshall University to conduct whole genome sequencing which is used to detect this variant. The confirmed cases are in the north central region of West Virginia.

“While the presence of this COVID-19 variant in West Virginia is not surprising, it’s a good motivator for us to double down on the prevention efforts we’ve had in place for many months now,” said Dr. Ayne Amjad, State Health Officer and Commissioner of DHHR’s Bureau for Public Health. “Now that we have this confirmation, as Governor Justice always says; it’s not time to be fearful, it’s time to be smart. All West Virginians should continue hand washing, social distancing, proper mask wearing, testing, and everyone should get vaccinated when it’s their turn.”

For more information on the UK variant, please visit https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/variants/index.html.

Free COVID-19 testing is available to all West Virginia residents. For a list of testing events, please visit https://dhhr.wv.gov/COVID-19/pages/testing.aspx.

Copyright 2021 WTAP. All rights reserved.