MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The Monongalia Co. Health Department (MCHD) is constantly working to assess the prevalence of COVID-19 in the county and that includes efforts to track variants.
We have had a few cases identified in Monongalia Co. with the variant that people call the UK variant. This variant does have the potential to have increased transmissibility and maybe a little more increased severity. We have also identified a few cases of variants that were first identified in California.”Dr. Diane Gross – MCHD Epidemiologist & WVU School of Public Health Assistant Professor
So far, Gross said, there are less than 10 cases of the UK variant and only a handful of the California strain identified in Monongalia Co. However, that could be, in part, because the health department is not testing every sample for COVID variants.
Instead, it has a thorough system in place. The system is, in fact, part of an international, as well as national program along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and West Virginia.
“We look for cases that are maybe reinfections, where they were infected earlier the summer and they have another bout of COVID,” Gross said. “Or, cases that have severe disease, or meet some other criteria that’s set out by the state. And if we have positive cases, we then try and get those samples, if they meet the criteria, we get to genetic sequencing.”
“And that’s what we use that to evaluate to see if they are one of the variants that have been identified to be of concern by the CDC. And this testing is done with WVU Laboratory and Marshall University as part of the state program, so that’s been going on since earlier this year.”
In addition to this, MCHD also selects cases for testing at random, Gross said. Variant cases identified thus far have come from both those who meet the criteria and those selected at random.
Although these numbers may not reflect the entire prevalence of variants in Monongalia Co., Gross said the public should not panic.
“Right now, we do not see any noticeable impact of these variants, but they are things that we want to monitor going forward,” she said.
Instead of panicking, she said the public should do what it knows works. Because whether dealing with the original virus or its “many, many” variants we already have the toolbox that is most effective.
“That includes: getting vaccinated, if you are sick go see your doctor, get tested, stay away from others, cover your cough, wash your hands, wear your mask, don’t go out into crowds,” Gross said. “These are all the tools that we have been using and have helped us to bring down from that initial peak that we had last year and try to keep the curve as flat as possible. Right now, we are doing well in West Virginia, we want to keep that going forward as we continue to get all of residents vaccinated.”
The UK, California, Brazil, South African — the list of strains is ostensibly endless, but dealing with them doesn’t have to be a futile effort. Gross said the United Kingdom is proof of that.
Despite having a large peak of cases earlier in 2021 and those cases primarily being the UK variant, they managed to flatten the curve.
“It’s the majority of cases over there, so even though we say it is more transmissible, it might be more severe, going back to those tools that we have can still be effective to bring the curve down and keep it down as we get people vaccinated and bring the state up to getting everyone vaccinated to have strong herd immunity.”