Johnson County Public Health offers advice regarding B117 variant of COVID-19

Irving Weber dons a mask during the COVID-19 pandemic in downtown Iowa City. — Jason Smith/Little Village

Following the Iowa Department of Public Health’s announcement on Monday that three cases of the B117 variant of the coronavirus had been detected in Iowa — two in Johnson County and one in Bremer County — Johnson County Public Health put out a brief statement.

“This particular variant has been detected in a number of states,” the statement said. “It was simply a matter of time before it was detected in Iowa and in Johnson County. This is because viruses mutate and different variant strains can occur.”

The variant — also know as the U.K. variant because that’s where it was originally discovered — was first detected in the United States on Dec. 29. As of Sunday, it had been confirmed in 32 states, according to the CDC.

“The positive cases [in Iowa] were identified by the State Hygienic Lab (SHL),” IDPH said in a statement on Monday. “SHL has been participating in the CDC’s SARS-CoV-2 Strain Surveillance Program by sending COVID-19 test samples to be sequenced for the B.1.1.7 variant since early December. SHL recently began doing their own internal sequencing to look specifically for the variant.”

According to JCPH, “Not every COVID-19 test sample will undergo testing to determine the particular strain of SARSCoV-2. Only a small proportion of samples will receive this additional test. IDPH will prioritize samples based on epidemiologic factors. This test will not be routinely available, and it is not something an individual can request.”

IDPH said the number of variant cases of COVID-19 detected in Iowa will be listed on the CDC’s U.S. COVID-19 Cases Caused by Variants page. The case numbers on that page are updated at 6 p.m. (central time) on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday, so it does not currently include the cases from Iowa.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the CDC was reporting 467 cases of the B117 variant in 32 states, as well as three cases of the B1351 or South African variant in two states (South Carolina and Maryland) and one case of the P1 or Brazilian variant in Minnesota.

The CDC notes that those numbers do not reflect the total number of variant cases in the United States, just those that have been detected through limited sampling programs.

In its statement, JCPH said it “will not be tracking numbers for this or other variant strains at the local level.”

The B117 variant is more infectious than the strain of COVID-19 that has been present in Iowa since March 2020, but it is not more lethal and does not result in more severe illnesses. Both vaccines currently in use in the United States are effective against the variant. Still, because it spreads more easily, public health experts are concerned it could lead to a new spike in cases that could strain healthcare resources.

JCPH concluded its statement by explaining that the same precautions it has recommended throughout the pandemic are also effective against the B117 variant. The department recommends the following steps, even for those who have been vaccinated.

● Stay home if you’re sick.
● Wash your hands often.
● Stay six feet away from others at all times.
● Wear a mask.
● Recognize that older people and those with chronic health conditions like diabetes, obesity, heart issues, and organ transplants have a much higher risk of serious complications from COVID-19.

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