New strain of COVID-19 found in Wisconsin

MADISON, Wis. (WKBT) — The new variant of COVID-19 first identified in the United Kingdom has made its way to Wisconsin, the Department of Health Services said Wednesday.

DHS and its laboratory partners identified a variant strain known as B.1.1.7 in the state Wednesday. 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 that causes COVID-19.

“Mutations among viruses are very common. 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,” said Chief Medical Officer Dr. Ryan Westergaard.

There is no evidence that the new strain causes more severe illness or increased risk of death.

“We already know that COVID-19 is easily transmitted through respiratory droplets, and with this new variant appearing to be even more infectious, taking preventative measures like wearing a mask and physically distancing are even more important,” said DHS Secretary-designee Andrea Palm.

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.

Experts say it remains critically important to follow best public health practices, including wearing a mask, staying home, maintaining physical distance, and washing hands frequently.


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