Duncan Slade Published

UK Variant Detected In West Virginia, WVU Students

A view of the Monogahela River in Morgantown, W.Va., from beside Woodburn Hall, on West Virginia University's Downtown Campus.

Three cases of the COVID-19 variant B.1.1.7, or commonly known as the UK Variant, have been detected in north central West Virginia, state health officials announced Friday evening.

“While the presence of this COVID-19 variant in West Virginia is not surprising, it’s a good motivator for us to double down on the prevention efforts we’ve had in place for many months now,” said Dr. Ayne Amjad, West Virginia’s state health officer, in a statement Friday.

Two of the three cases are West Virginia University students, according to a Saturday announcement from university officials. Additionally, they said the university is conducting contact tracing in collaboration with the Monongalia County Health Department.

Last week, the university reported a weekly 3.53% positive rate from 3,143 tests conducted. 111 positive cases of the virus were reported.

It is believed the three individuals are related to each other and have not visited the WVU campus while they were infectious, according to a university press release.

Forty-two states had previously detected the B.1.1.7 variant that originated in the United Kingdom and scientists believe it is more contagious than the original COVID-19 strain. The CDC reports all states bordering West Virginia had already detected the variant and 1,523 cases of the variant have been detected nationwide.

Early data shows the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines offer protection against the B.1.1.7 variant but just 9% of West Virginia’s population has been fully vaccinated.

“It is critically important that everyone (vaccinated and unvaccinated) continue to mask up, physically distance and wash our hands, particularly at this time when there’s light at the end of the tunnel,” Dr. Sally Hodder, associate vice president for clinical and translational research at WVU, said in a statement on Saturday. “We don’t want to shoot ourselves in the foot.”

Testing labs at both WVU and Marshall University have partnered with the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources to conduct genetic sequences tests of COVID-19 and to detect variants.

More information on the recently detected B .1.1.7 variant can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website.

“Now that we have this confirmation, as Gov. Justice always says, it’s not time to be fearful, it’s time to be smart,” Amjad said. “All West Virginians should continue hand-washing, social distancing, proper mask-wearing, testing, and everyone should get vaccinated when it’s their turn.”