COVID-19 variant found in Monroe County

SPARTA, Wis. (WKBT) — A variant of COVID-19 first detected in the United Kingdom has made its way to Monroe County, the health department announced Tuesday.

The B.1.1.7 variant was detected this week in the county. There have been 139 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant in Wisconsin since it was discovered in the U.K. in November 2020.

New variants are found through a process called “whole genome sequencing.” This process takes a sample of the virus and reads its genetic code. Wisconsin DHS, the Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene, and other laboratory partners regularly work together to make sure that whole genome sequencing is performed on a small sample of positive tests.

Mutations among viruses are very common -it’s expected to occur in all viruses, including COVID-19. Most variants do not change how the virus behaves and many disappear. It is possible, however, that mutations can help a virus spread more easily, can cause infection to be more or less severe, or can lead to resistance to treatments or vaccines.

Variant B.1.1.7 appears to be more contagious than other strains, which is why it has been getting a lot of attention.

Early research has found that the B.1.1.7 variant spreads more quickly than existing strains of COVID-19. The variant may be associated with an increased risk of death, but more studies are needed to confirm this. Experts expect that all three of the currently COVID-19 vaccines effectively reduce the risk of COVID-19 for all of the circulating variants.

Monroe County Health Department said its guidance for the community remains the same:

  • Wash your hands frequently;
  • Maintain social distancing;
  • Wear a mask;
  • Get vaccinated when able; and,
  • Follow CDC guidelines.

For more information on COVID-19, visit our COVID-19 Vaccine HQ.