COVID variant found in North Dakota — what does that mean?

This scanning electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2 (round gold objects) emerging from the surface of cells cultured in the lab. SARS-CoV-2, also known as 2019-nCoV, is the virus that causes COVID-19.

The question:

North Dakota confirmed Wednesday, Feb. 17, the first cases in the state of a COVID-19 variant discovered in the UK. What does that mean?

The answer:

Viruses change and mutate — scientists expected that with COVID-19, but there are still unanswered questions.

In the fall, the United Kingdom identified a variant COVID strain, one that was concerning because it seemed to be more contagious.

“This variant spreads more easily and quickly than other variants,” the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention wrote. “In January 2021, experts in the UK reported that this variant may be associated with an increased risk of death compared to other variant viruses, but more studies are needed to confirm this finding.”

There are many things scientists are still trying to figure out, including how widespread the varients are, whether they cause different symptoms and whether they respond to the same treatments. That last point is especially serious as the United States continues its efforts to roll out a vaccine against the disease. As of Wednesday, Feb. 17, about 14% of North Dakota residents had been vaccinated.

The CDC, along with other public health officials, have stressed the importance of keeping COVID-19 prevention measures in place.

“Rigorous and increased compliance with public health mitigation strategies, such as vaccination, physical distancing, use of masks, hand hygiene, and isolation and quarantine, is essential to limit the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19 and protect public health,” the CDC wrote.

The North Dakota cases were confirmed Tuesday. One person had recently traveled inside the United States and the other was a close contact.

“Surveillance testing for the variant has been ongoing at the North Dakota Public Health Lab and in collaboration with other diagnostic laboratories,” said Dr. Christie Massen, Public Health Lab Director. Surveillance consists of genomic sequencing on portions of COVID-19 positive specimens.

“This variant strain is thought to be more contagious which reinforces the importance of continuing to wear a mask, physical distancing, staying home when you’re sick, getting tested, and quarantining when you’ve been exposed to someone who has tested positive,” said Kirby Kruger, Disease Control Director for the NDDoH. “Getting the vaccine when it’s your turn is another great way to prevent the spread of the variant strain.”

Load comments