Image Credit: MGN
Published January 28, 2021
The Tennessee Department of Health reported last week that a new U.K. strain of the Covid-19 virus was discovered in Tennessee.
Spokespeople from the department have not yet confirmed if it has been seen in Hamilton County.
Research scientists from Baylor School believe they have found this new variant, also called B117, in some of their patients. Samples were sent to the health department a few weeks ago in order to determine if it was the U.K. strain, but nothing has been confirmed yet.
Bill Christian, a spokesperson for the state’s health department, confirmed last Thursday that two cases of B117 were seen across the state, but they did not confirm what counties the cases came from.
When the pandemic first started, the health department would release select information for Covid cases, such as the county, age, and gender of the patient.
Dr. Aditya Khanna, an assistant professor from Brown University School of Public Health, says information like that is important, as it can show how the virus is spreading.
Khanna said, “I think knowing that a more transmissible version is circulating gives people an incentive to continue being careful. I think that’s very, very important. I think the county level is a broad enough granularity that it doesn’t violate anybody’s individual privacy, but it’s really important information, because I do worry that it seems that the new variant is more easily transmissible. And that’s not a good thing. It opens up a lot of questions and concerns.”
Covid cases in Tennessee have just started to decline, but the U.K. variant is said to be more contagious. Khanna said that it is not uncommon for viruses to begin to mutate the longer they are able to spread. The B117 is said to be 50% more contagious, but it isn’t any deadlier than the common Covid virus.
Dr. Lisa Piercey, Tennessee Health Commissioner, said on Friday that the U.K. variant will likely be the dominant Covid strain in the state by March.
During the news conference on Friday, Piercey said, “This is what viruses do. Viruses mutate. They change. They have little spin-off siblings and cousins. They do whatever they can to try to find a susceptible host. So when transmission starts going down, with any viral process, you’ll see the virus mutate to get into more hosts.”
Baylor research scientist, Elizabeth Forrester, said even if the variant they found is not B117, it is similar, and one that they continue to find.
“The important point is that we know there are variants in our area that are different than what we’ve seen in the past. We need a lot more sequencing data to fully understand the implications in terms of public health,” Forrester said.
“It’s no longer just enough to know whether somebody is COVID positive because who knows what other strains are around the corner or maybe already circulating that we don’t know about,” Khanna said, “There’s no guarantee any of those won’t be clinically worse than the ones that are already out there.”