Photo Credits: COVID-19 testing center in the ARC at UC Davis. (Quinn Spooner / Aggie)
Doctors at UC Davis’ Genome Center identify a highly contagious variant
On Feb. 8, Healthy Davis Together and the UC Davis Genome Center announced they had identified the first case of an especially contagious variant of COVID-19 in Yolo County.
This new variant, referred to as B.1.1.7, was first identified in the United Kingdom in September. It was first found in the U.S. in late December, but scientists estimate it has been in the U.S. since late November. The Centers For Disease Control (CDC) has reported 981 cases of this new strain as of Feb 11.
Researchers from 12 different institutions published on Feb. 7 that the variant was found to be between 35–45% more infectious than the original coronavirus strain, however the CDC estimates that number to be closer to 50%.
Dr. David Coil, a project director and scientist for Healthy Davis Together, worked with scientists to identify the variant at the UC Davis Genome Center by sequencing the genes in the virus.
“In terms of the sequencing, we’ve only done that on very, very few samples, but we’re ramping up to do much more,” Coil said.
So far, all authorized vaccines appear to still be effective against new strains like B.1.1.7.
“There’s not enough data from people who are actually vaccinated to look out at the world and see how effective it is against the variant,” Coil said. “But yes, the vaccine works against this strain as far as we know.”
As of Feb. 10, Sacramento and Yolo County hospitals have a total of 81 intensive care unit (ICU) beds available and 32 beds available at alternative sites.
“This is a really critical point,” Coil said. “It may be more important than ever that people remain vigilant.”
Scientists still don’t know exactly how many of the people in Yolo County are infected with the B.1.1.7 variant.
“It’s impossible to say how big a spike we’re expecting,” Coil said. “That depends on people’s behavior. The more people who follow the rules, the less cases we’ll have.”
Students, faculty and staff members can schedule free COVID-19 tests via the Health-e-Messaging service. Davis residents who are not affiliated with the school can schedule their appointments on Healthy Davis Together’s website.
Coil said social guidelines are even more important than they were before.
“A lot of people have started to have pandemic fatigue,” Coil said. “A lot of people have started to slack off and cut corners and it’s even more critical now than before that we don’t do that; we have to hold the line here.”
Written by: Wm. Schroedter Kinman — firstname.lastname@example.org