Health Team

Understanding true threat of COVID-19 variant will take time, money

Posted January 25, 2021 5:16 p.m. EST
Updated January 26, 2021 8:30 a.m. EST

— Just about a month after the United Kingdom reported a variant to the COVID-19 virus, a Triangle company found it had arrived in North Carolina.

"I think it is a big plus that we can identify these so rapidly and get the information back out there, because the contact tracing piece of this is obviously very important, said Steve Hoover, vice president of laboratory operations at Mako Medical Laboratories in Henderson.

UK studies have shown that the COVID-19 variant known as B.1.1.7 could be more contagious.

“While expected, identification of this COVID-19 variant in North Carolina is concerning, especially at the same time as we are already seeing very high numbers of cases,” said Dr. Mandy Cohen, North Carolina secretary of Health and Human Services.

Mako's tests found the variant in a person on Mecklenberg County. While the test is the same, the process to detect this new variant in a lab is more involved and takes more time. Not all labs are testing for it, so it may well be present and spreading in the Triangle.

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention forecast that this version of the virus will become the dominant one in the United States.

"If it is more transmissible, we have to be more careful," said Dr. Rachel Roper, associate professor in the East Carolina University Department of Microbiology and Immunology.

Hoover says a better understanding of the spread and the threat is worth increased attention.

"The data that is coming out of it is going to be hugely beneficial down the road," he said, pointing out that vaccines can be modified to meet new variants.

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