COVID variant indicates community spread, fuels push for vaccines

Updated: Mar. 29, 2021 at 9:14 PM CDT
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LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - A woman with no travel history has become the first confirmed case of a COVID-19 variant in our community.Indicating it is already spreading.

Public health director Katherine Wells says it does not come as a big surprise.

“We were looking for them, so we knew that it would be possible to get here to Lubbock,” Wells said.

What is curious however is the type of strain detected: the B.1.351 or South African variant.

It is one of five “variants of concern” identified so far by the CDC.

Current data indicates only a handful of cases have been found in the state and less than 300 in the country.

But this discovery, Wells says, is only the tip of the iceberg.

“I’m sure that we have most of the variants that we’re seeing in Texas also here in Lubbock,” she said. “Because of how mobile our community is.”

The B.1.351 strain is believed to be about 50% more contagious and makes current COVID treatments less effective.

It is unclear right now how many cases have been sent in by area hospitals and the health department for investigation.

Still, the required genetic testing to confirm a variant’s presence remains very limited.

“It’s kind of like how COVID testing was a year ago, very few people could COVID test. Right now it’s, very few people can sequence. But that’s increasing quickly as the public health community is understanding how important it is to [do],” Wells explained.

Initially, cases of re-infection or ones where a fully-vaccinated person got sick raised suspicion for extra testing.

But now with confirmed community transmission, there is a push from the state and the CDC for more sequencing on all types of cases.

“That would allow us to have a better understanding of the variants and what variants are being transmitted and the true prevalence of them,” Wells said.

The good news is data suggests the current vaccines are still effective against the detected variant.

Meanwhile, the health department has investigated two cases of infection within a fully-vaccinated person, but Wells says that is to be expected.

Vaccines are not 100% effective, but they are still our best defense against any version of the virus.

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