Local health experts explain COVID-19 variants

KENNEWICK, Wash. – As more people become vaccinated against COVID-19 and more places open up, officials are warning the public about virus variants.

So far, eight mutations of COVID-19 have been detected in Washington state. The two common variants, according to the Department of Health are the B-1.429, first found in California and the UK variant, B-1.1.7. The Washington DOH recently released this report, detailing variant activity.

“A growing proportion are B-1.1.7. strains, which as you know are more transmissible, and potentially may cause additional concern for illness, we estimate that these will be more than 50 percent of the cases by mid-April in the state of Washington,” Dr. Umair Shah, Secretary of Health in Washington, explained.

Heather Hill with the Benton Franklin Health District said experts saw this coming and viruses mutate all the time.

“Understand that prevention measures are even more important once we start seeing variants happening especially the variants that seem to transmit quicker easier which has happened or variants that can cause more severe illness, which has happened,” the Public Health Nurse explained.

Brett Taylor, the Director of Oregon State University’s Genome Research and Biocomputing Center said the C-D-C is constantly on the lookout for variants of concern, like the B-1.1.7.

“The data to date suggests that it may spread 30 percent to 50 percent times faster than the original strain and it may cause more severe disease especially among young people,” Taylor said.

Taylor, along with OSU’s TRACE COVID-19 program has been surveilling the virus in Oregon communities and the wastewater.

They’ve also found the presence of variants throughout the state.

“Public health authorities need to be able to adjust their control measures if variants appear which have new properties like they spread faster or they can overcome treatment,” he said.

Recently, health officials have discovered the ‘Los Angeles’ variant, which like the Brazil and South African mutations, could evade treatment or vaccines.

Taylor and Hill said still, it’s important to get vaccinated.

“Since these variants are still related to the original, there is some protection there. This is just more evidence that viruses do what they’re going to do and we as humans need to do whatever we can to help slow the spread, stop the spread,” Hill said.

All your COVID-19 vaccine questions, answered by KAPP KVEW here.