BATON ROUGE, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – Health officials in Louisiana say the new variant of the novel coronavirus first detected in the United Kingdom and now reported in at least three states in the U.S. may well be already be here, but it has not been detected yet.
The variant, known as B.1.1.7, does not come with more severe symptoms, but it is believed to be more infectious.
In addition to Colorado and California earlier this week, the new strain has also now been detected in Florida. Multiple cases have also been reported in Canada, and top experts say it is probably already spreading elsewhere in the U.S.
Louisiana does not have the technology to test for the new strain, but samplings from the state lab in Baton Rouge are regularly sent to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention as part of an ongoing virus surveillance effort.
“The type of test that really identifies this new variant is not a simple test that people get,” Assistant State Health Officer Dr. Joseph Kanter explained in Thursday’s briefing with Gov. John Bel Edwards. “It’s a genomic sequencing that happens at a very specialized lab and only a few places in the country can do this, the CDC being one and then some research institutions, for example.”
So far, Kanter says, it has not shown up in any of the samples the state lab has sent to the CDC. Kanter said the state lab has also reviewed PCR test results for “patterns” that have been identified as possible markers for the new strain. If found, those samples would also be sent to Atlanta.
“So we’ve gone back and looked for that and didn’t find anything so far.”
Gov. Edwards said the state will be doubling the samplings sent to the CDC after the new year as the federal government steps up virus surveillance. But even if the new strain shows up, it doesn’t change what needs to be done to combat the spread.
“While we talk about this new variant potentially being in Louisiana, we don’t know, but it may be here. If it is, we believe it to be more easily transmitted. But it doesn’t change anything that we’re asking people to do. It just makes it more imperative for people to do it,” said Edwards.
“The bottom line is the measures we’ve been talking about are really the only ones available to us and they work against that strain of COVID, too.”
It is still not known whether monoclonal antibody treatments currently being used to treat COVID-19 will be as effective on the new strain, but scientific research so far indicates the COVID vaccines that are already approved will still protect people from this strain.