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New strain of COVID-19 reaches nearby county


A variant strain of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, was discovered Jan. 12, in Wisconsin, in Eau Claire County. The particular variant, referred to as B.1.1.7, was first discovered circulating widely in England, during November and December of 2020.

Based on epidemiologic and modeling studies, researchers believe that this new strain spreads more rapidly and easily than the original strain of SARS-CoV-2. However, there is no evidence that the new strain causes more severe illness or increased risk of death.

In Wisconsin, the strain was identified through ongoing surveillance and whole genome sequencing, a routine practice since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. All viruses, including the virus that causes COVID-19, change through mutation, and new variants of the virus are expected to occur over time.

“Mutations among viruses are very common,” said Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) chief medical officer Dr. Ryan Westergaard. “It’s not unusual – in fact, it’s expected. As time goes on in the pandemic and the virus continues to replicate on a large scale, the genetic sequence of the virus will change.”

Now in the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, molecular surveillance of SARS-CoV-2 will increase in importance, to quickly identify and understand new variants. The DHS and laboratory partners continue to analyze genetic sequence data to stop the spread of COVID-19.