On Tuesday, the Iowa Department of Public Health confirmed two cases of the B.1.617 coronavirus variant in Iowa.
B.1.617 is also known as the India variant because it was first detected in the country late last year. The first case of the India variant in the United States was confirmed in California last month.
The Iowa cases were identified by the State Hygienic Lab in two Jefferson County residents. One of the adults is between the ages of 61 and 80 and the other is older than 80.
IDPH said in a news release they and the county public health department have contacted the two individuals to “initiate the public health monitoring process,” which includes contact tracing and advising the individuals to isolate.
“B.1.617 is not designated as a ‘variant of concern,’ indicating that there is not currently evidence of increased transmissibility or more severe disease caused by this variant,” IDPH said in a news release, with emphasis in the original. “However, we share this information as a matter of public interest given the virus impact and newly issued travel restrictions to India. The P.1 and B.117 variant strains which were previously confirmed by IDPH are considered ‘variants of concern.’”
While the India variant may not be a “variant of concern,” the World Health Organization (WHO) referred to it last month as a “variant of interest.” More studies are needed to understand the significance of the India variant, according to WHO’s COVID-19 technical lead Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove.
India is experiencing a sharp surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, as well as dire shortages of hospital beds and other necessary supplies. It is unclear whether the spike in cases is due to the India variant or the B.117 variant, which is the cause of some of the spikes in the country.
The B.117 variant — also known as the U.K. variant — was first detected in the United Kingdom last September. By April, the U.K. variant became the dominant strain in the United States and the P.1 variant, which is known as the Brazilian variant, was the second-most widespread.
IDPH medical director and epidemiologist Dr. Caitlin Pedati encouraged eligible Iowans to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Vaccinations opened to everyone in the state 16 years old and older in April.
“Getting vaccinated against COVID-19 is the best way to prevent this, or any other currently circulating strain of the virus from spreading through the population,” Pedati said.
Hy-Vee pharmacies announced last week they are now offering vaccinations to everyone on a walk-in basis, and UnityPoint Health in Cedar Rapids is holding vaccine clinics this week on Wednesday and Friday.