NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Tennessee Department of Health has announced two confirmed cases of a more contagious strain of COVID-19 in Tennessee, making the state one of more than 20 states in the country reporting COVID-19 cases caused by variants.
According to the Health Department, this is out of a total of seven specimens sent to the CDC for confirmation.
Dr. William Schaffner with Vanderbilt University Medical Center said the variant strain has to be specially tested beyond the regular COVID-19 infection nasal swab.
“As we pick up new strains here and send it to specialized laboratories, we’re more likely to find this strain. It’s a little like the more you look, the more you’ll find,” Schaffner said.
Schaffner said even though symptoms are the same, it is highly contagious and could take many more lives than what we’ve seen as of late with the original COVID-19 strain.
The treatment process is also the same to quarantine for 14 days. Schaffner said the best protection has also not changed when it comes to wearing a mask, social distancing and avoiding groups.
The B.1.1.7 strain of SARS-CoV-2, confirmed by the CDC, was first discovered in the United Kingdom in September and has quickly become the dominant COVID-19 strain in the region. The CDC believes B.1.1.7 is more widespread than reported, with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson having gone on record to say that the strain could be as much as 70% more transmissible than standard SARS-CoV-2.
There is no evidence the B.1.1.7 strain causes more severe symptoms nor increase the risk for a fatal infection and current vaccines seem to work against the variant. The strain has been identified in Australia, Canada, Denmark, Germany, France, Japan, Lebanon, India, the Netherlands Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates.
“Viruses constantly change and new variants are expected to occur over time. This does not change our response to COVID-19 in Tennessee, but serves as a reminder of the need for continued vigilance and practice of simple actions we cal all take to prevent further spread of COVID-19: wash hands frequently, limit gatherings, maintain social distance, wear a mask in public and get vaccinated when you qualify to do so,” said a state health department spokesperson to News 2.
Dr. Amesh Adalja from Johns Hopkins University tells our partners at NewsNation that due to the variant strain’s higher infection rate, despite having the same fatality rate, there will be more deaths simply because there will be more cases.
The Associated Press, Reuters, and NewsNation contributed to this story.
NOTE: A previous version of this story included five cases reported by the Tennessee Department of Health. The department issued a correction that reduced the reported cases down to two which is now reflected in the story above.
Stay with News 2 for continuing coverage of the COVID-19 Pandemic.