According to Deaconess, the SARS-CoV-2 B.1.1.7 variant of COVID-19, also known as the "UK variant", has been detected in Evansville, Indiana.
Deaconess says the variant was found through its sophisticated PCR testing platform, which detects the virus's genetic material, after concern that the variant had reached our area was raised by a new result pattern detected in the tests.
According to Dr. April Abbott, who leads Deaconess’ microbiology labs, the presence of an S-gene drop-out was detected on six specimens in five patients over the past two weeks. A specimen was then sent to Los Angeles for testing where it was confirmed to be consistent with B.1.1.7, the "UK variant".
Deaconess President Dr. James Porter says the new variant is a cause for concern, but that it's not surprising given the CDC's prediction that the variant would be the predominant COVID-19 strain in the U.S. by March.
According to Deaconess, there is increasing evidence that the variant is both more contagious and more deadly than the original SARS-CoV-2 strain. The CDC’s most current data suggests it is 30-70% more contagious and as much as 30% more deadly.
“Confirmation of the UK variant in our community further heightens the importance and urgency of getting as many members of our community immunized as possible," said Dr. Porter.
So far, studies suggest that the vaccines currently available will protect against the new coronavirus variant and that wearing masks, social distancing, and good hygiene are key to controlling the spread of the virus.
"We do expect that the vaccine is going to be able to protect against this, so we definitely want to push everyone to also go forward with their vaccination," said Dr. Abbott. "That's very critical for us here in this area."
The COVID-19 vaccine is currently being distributed at the Vanderburgh County Health Department. All Hoosiers age 70-years-old and above can schedule an appointment to receive the vaccine, as can other individuals in certain frontline professions. Click Here to schedule an appointment.
For those who aren't yet eligible under statewide guidelines to receive the vaccine, VCHD is offering a "back-up" list. Individuals who are 65 and older or have certain health conditions can sign up through the back-up list to receive the vaccine. Click here for more information/eligibility.
For more information on who's eligible to receive the vaccine and where they can receive it statewide in Indiana, Kentucky, and Illinois, click here.