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U.K. COVID-19 variant found in West Virginia

CHARLESTON — Three cases of the U.K. variant of the virus that causes COVID-19 have been detected in West Virginia, the state Department of Health and Human Resources announced.

According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the B.1.1.7 variant was identified in the United Kingdom last fall.

“This variant spreads more easily and quickly than other variants,” the CDC website says. “In January 2021, experts in the U.K. reported that this variant may be associated with an increased risk of death compared to other variant viruses, but more studies are needed to confirm this finding.”

The variant was first detected in the United States in December, the CDC said. Forty-two states, including all states bordering West Virginia, have reported 1,523 cases nationwide, the DHHR said.

“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, state health officer and commissioner of DHHR’s Bureau for Public Health. “Now that we have this confirmation, as Gov. (Jim) Justice always says, it’s not time to be fearful; it’s time to be smart. All West Virginians should continue hand washing, social distancing, proper mask wearing, testing, and everyone should get vaccinated when it’s their turn.”

Two of the three individuals with the variant are students at West Virginia University, the school announced Saturday.

Early reports indicate that both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines offer protection against this particular strain, the WVU release said, but only 5 percent of the U.S. population has received the required two vaccination doses.

“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,” said Dr. Sally Hodder, director of the West Virginia Clinical and Translational Science Institute and associate vice president for clinical and translational research at WVU. “We don’t want to shoot ourselves in the foot.”

WVU, Marshall University and DHHR are collaborating to conduct whole genome sequencing to detect the variant.

Over the weekend, DHHR confirmed the deaths of 13 West Virginians from COVID-19, including a 75-year-old Gilmer County man.

Active cases statewide were at 8,954, dropping below 9,000 after peaking Jan. 10 at more than 29,000.

There have been 166,186 people fully vaccinated in West Virginia, according to the state’s online coronavirus dashboard. Additional vaccination clinics are scheduled this week, and people who have not registered can do so online at vaccinate.wv.gov.

The statistics from local counties by number of shots, percentage of county population and number of residents over 65 receiving a shot: Wood, 13,801, 16.5, 7,467; Wirt County, 1,212, 20.8, 737; Wetzel, 3,809, 25.3, 2,381; Tyler, 1,619, 18.8, 977; Roane, 2,744, 20, 1,927; Ritchie, 1,747, 18.3, 1,121; Pleasants, 1,949, 26.1, 1,130; Jackson, 5,703, 20, 3,244; Gilmer, 1,849, 23.6, 1,172; Doddridge, 2,187, 25.9, 1,366; Calhoun, 1,666, 23.4, 1,021.

Virus statistics for local counties by number active and total deaths: Calhoun, 9, 0; Doddridge, 29, 6; Gilmer, 19, 8; Jackson, 40, 50; Pleasants, 20, 17; Ritchie, 26, 9; Roane, 15, 7; Tyler, 63, 4; Wetzel, 111, 19; Wirt, 8, 2; Wood, 220, 129.

Evan Bevins can be reached at ebevins@newsandsentinel.com.

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